Sunday, July 09, 2006

Cooperstown Recap

Thursday – Friday June 22 – 23…The Drive Up to New York. I spent most of the morning at work preparing for the trip. At noon I went home to finish packing and take Will to his doctor’s appointment. Then it took me until 6:20 to finish up all the work had to do. Even with a quick stop in Commerce to pick up supper, we made it to Jefferson by 11 pm. We stayed up a while longer talking to the Millers. After Mr. Miller’s bacon and egg breakfast, we got off at 6:20. We drove through Charlotte and halfway through Virginia, not stopping until 12:15, north of Roanoke. Will napped most of the way. We gassed up and grabbed some Wendy’s. For the rest of the trip Will manned the atlas, figuring and recording when we’d reach the next state line or other major point. We made Pennsylvania by two and New York by five, with one pit stop. Most of the trip was made in overcast weather, which was great. In northern PA the rain came down pretty good, and didn’t stop until we were driving into Cooperstown. The New York interstates were a scenic drive through green valleys, passing tiny villages. There were no billboards and little development, making our final dinner and gas stop challenging. As we got off at the Cooperstown exit, Will was as excited as I’ve seen him, calling Ceil and both grandparents. With nothing but unpacking on the Friday evening schedule, I wasn’t in the biggest hurry to arrive, as I knew there would be a crowd. We turned in and went to the back of a long line of cars. It took well over an hour to get through and unpacked and get the car parked. Cooperstown Dreams Park CDP hosts 96 teams a week throughout the summer, employing over 300 young people. Unaffiliated with the Hall of Fame, each of the 60 numbered barracks sports a photo of a hall of famer, based on the number. Seven is Mickey Mantle, 42 is Jackie Robinson. We’re in 49, Hoyt Wilhelm. Each barrack sleeps twenty. There are 22 fully manicured, lighted fields…so nice that no practice is allowed, only games. There are batting cages and a practice field located near the barracks, across a creek from the fields. The business has been in operation for ten years, boasting that this is every young boy’s dream, to play ball in Cooperstown. This year over three thousand teams were turned away. This week there are 33 states represented, including Hawaii, as well as a team from Canada. There are twelve teams here from Georgia, most from North Atlanta - including another team that had recruited Will. Frank McElwain, Will’s coach this year at Mt. Paran, is here this week with his younger son Clay. CDP seems to placate to the big budget “select” teams scattered throughout the country. In the player’s organizational meeting they boasted of the various home run and pitching records, and how eleven players selected in the recent MLB draft had played here. There are concession stands open from dawn until 10 pm, as well as a large souvenir stand, custom photo booth, and video game arcade. As well as drawing in the extra money, it at least gives the kids a chance to slow down a bit between the many games There are stories of the select teams that charge $1,000.00 just to try out, $10,000.00 if you make the team, with no guarantee of playing time. If a 12-year old comes along that’s better, you can be kicked off the team. One team hired ex-Florida Marlins manager Jim Leyland to manage the team. Another money maker is the trading of team pins. Each player buys a hundred of their team pins, at a cost of over a dollar. When they get to Cooperstown the boys swap pins for the pins of the other teams. Teams try to outdo each other for the most elaborate pin…some blink, others have bobbleheads, some are really big. Hawaii has two pins…one is a surfboard shaped keychain. Even umpires have pins. We’ll be relaxing in the barracks and a boy from another team will peek in, wanting to make a trade. Some boys put their pins on towels, others buy ‘pin books’ to hold their pins. There are pages and pages of rules and instructions. Most are for the safety of the players, others to keep things organized and running smoothly. All players must wear their pants legs pulled up to their knees. Each player is issued both a home red and a road blue jersey. Combined with the mandatory plain, unstriped white pants, it’s quite hard to keep up with which is your team. There’s at least one other camp that has opened up in the area copying the idea…to serve as competition. They offer air conditioned rooms and maid service! Saturday June 24th…”opening ceremonies / skills competitions” The first full day was designed to create chills and memories, though by the age of twelve, many of these boys aren’t impressed. After breakfast and team pictures, we hit the batting cages and practice field. I worked with Will a bit to get ready for that evening’s “Golden Arm” competition…hitting a target at home plate with a throw from centerfield. After lunch the boys played wall ball, traded team pins, and we attended the organizational meeting. After an early dinner all the teams congregated in the meal tent to line up to march into the stadium for the opening ceremonies. A mom on the team reported the same stories were told that we heard in our meetings, the same grandchildren and nephews introduced. Three guys parachuted onto the field, we marched in and were introduced by team. Since many events are conducted in alphabetical order by team, it’s not fun being named Shaw Park. I hear that on Thursday we are dismissed in reverse order, which is nice. The Canadian and USA national anthems were played. The skills competition came after the Opening Ceremony…home run derby, fastest runner, golden arm, and around the horn…where the teams are timed making twelve throws around the field. The winning time turned out to be under 21 seconds. Shaw Park took over 35 seconds, due to a couple of errant throws. All the teams stayed on the main field for Around the Horn, and one player from each team went to adjoining fields for the individual competitions. Throwers scored five points in the Golden Arm by hitting a one foot bull’s-eye at home plate from centerfield. Hitting the outer three foot diameter red circle was worth three points, and hitting the rest of the target was one point. A bounced throw hitting anywhere on the target scored one point. You got three throws. Most boys were bouncing the ball due to the distance, and most missed on all three throws. Many more only scored one point. Only two of the 96 hit the bull’s-eye, and only a few more hit the red circle. About ten boys scored three or more points to advance to the finals. Will’s first throw easily covered the distance, but missed to the left. The strong throw awakened the crowd. He also missed to the right on his second throw, but hit the target on his last throw. After the 96 teams had completed the Around the Horn, the finals of the individual competitions were conducted. The fastest runner circled the bases with a time under 13 seconds. Many home runs were hit completely out of the park, providing all the other players packing the stands a thrill. Will Pitches 5 Shutout Innings The boys got to sleep in Sunday morning, having only to make it to breakfast before 8:30. The first game was at eleven against the Utah Curve. The Curve’s number three hitter hit a two-run homer in the top of the first, and even after the Cougars tied the score with Trevor’s two-run homer in the bottom of the inning, two leadoff walks in the top of the second inning put the Cougars in the hole again. Will came in to pitch with nobody out and struck out two batters, and allowed no further damage. He pitched five shutout innings, throwing 42 strikes in 54 pitches, striking out three and walking none, retiring the last eleven batters in a row. It was his best pitching performance ever, and this was a tough team. He also had an assist. At the plate he walked all three times, only seeing two strikes. In the third he was balked to second, reached third on a fielder’s choice, and scored when the catcher’s pickoff throw sailed past the third-baseman. Trevor accounted for the other six runs, going 3 for 3 with 5 RBIs. Game Two: Web-Cam Loss After lunch the sunny day turned cloudy, and we felt a few raindrops as we warmed up for the 4:30 game. The rain slowly continued to increase, and as we walked to the field an announcement was made postponing the game, as more rain was expected. We went back to the barracks to rest, and then went to dinner early in expectation of a later game. As we began eating, we noticed other teams hastily rushing to the fields…so much for supper, the games were starting in 15 minutes. The Cleveland School of Baseball extended an early lead to 4 – 1 after four innings. Will had flown out to deep right and caught a pop in center, then rifled a line drive to the fence in right center during the Cougars three-run fifth inning. The game was played in a steady rain. Shaw Park could’ve won, but had three runners thrown out on the bases, failed to execute a squeeze bunt, and allowed three unearned runs on defense. Will Homers in Monday’s Rain Delayed Game The rain continued throughout the night. This allowed the boys to get some extra sleep, having gone to bed early for their 8:30 game. The game started on time, but the rain steadily increased. They were playing the Santa Fe Red Sox, a select team from near Gainesville Florida. They had plenty of fans, one of the nicest pins to collect, and they sported team issued red Nike spikes. Coach Bauer mixed up the order and defense, including moving Will to bat leadoff and play shortstop. Will threw out two batters at first, and scored on a wild pitch, and the Cougars led 3 – 2. Then Santa Fe nearly batted around in the bottom of the third, scoring five runs to retake the lead…two of them unearned. Then the game was suspended for the rain. We had lunch and tried to get the players to rest a little. Finally the game was resumed at almost four in the afternoon. The scoreless fourth inning went by quickly, with only six batters coming to the plate. Will threw out another batter from short. Will came up in the top of the fifth with one out and working the count to two balls and a strike. A tall right-hander was pitching for Santa Fe, and he seemed to have a speedy fastball and a good curve, as well as a changeup. He had entered the game in the third inning and faced six batters before Will came up, striking out four. The next pitch to Will was on the outside corner, and Will hammered it deep to rightfield, far over the eight foot fence for a home run. The right-hander quickly retired the side, then the rain increased, and the game was postponed again. The other parents had secured the home run ball, but soon all games were suspended for the rest of the day. As the rain continued, the parents were taking their kids out to dinner. Will and I finally got the chance to drive into Cooperstown and walk around the many shops. Tuesday…More Rain I woke up early Tuesday morning to the sound of a steady downpour. The rain continued from at least 5 am through 10 am, and made yesterday’s rain seem light. While Coach Tom and the rest of the team slept, I showered, ate a quick breakfast, and picked up the laundry. Just before breakfast ended at 8:30, I woke everyone up. The small lake was now overflowing its banks, and the small stream was now a thundering river, flowing down and flooding the practice field. With little to do during the downpour after breakfast, Coach Tom and I got the boys to clean the filthy room. We got all the wet shoes drying by the fan, distributed all the clean laundry, gathered all the dirty laundry, hung the wet batbags on the railing of the bunk beds, and swept the floor. The transformation was amazing. Then the boys took showers and played whiffleball. At noon it was decided that Sunday suspended games would finish at three, and our Monday game would finish at four. I jumped at the chance to hit downtown Cooperstown again, and took Bengie and Ryan to meet their dads. The sky opened up again, so we ate lunch at the park while waiting…we still got drenched going to the car. The rain continued throughout the afternoon, eventually postponing all games again. This meant we could take our time at the Hall of Fame. The National Baseball Hall of Fame. With all there was to see at the Hall of Fame, I actually thought there would be more…but much more would be overkill…how many old mitts, jerseys, and spikes could you see? There was an introductory multi-media presentation, baseball art exhibits, the Who’s On First? Video, a locker room displaying mementos from all the teams. Greg Maddox had shoes, caps, and jerseys in both the Braves and Cubs lockers, as well as in an area displaying the dominance of the Braves. There were sections devoted to the Negro Leagues, amateur baseball, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, the World Series, balls from all the no-hitters, and women in baseball. The section displaying the top ten lifetime and active statistical leaders was interesting, particularly to see how Aaron, Maddux, Barry Bonds, and other former Braves stack up. There were World Series championship rings from every year, that increased in size. The entire museum was laid out in chronological order, from baseball’s beginnings to the recent World Baseball Classic. There were displays on stadiums and ballpark entertainment, replete with part of the exploding scoreboard from old Comminsky Park, old turnstiles and cornerstones from Ebbets Field, and the Phillie Phanatic costume. Our journey through the museum took us to the small theatre just in time for the daily trivia contest, organized like ‘Who Wants to be A Millionaire”. I knew lots of the questions, but never knew the first question quick enough to make it down to the hot seat. I doubt I could’ve made it through all ten questions in a row, even with the two lifelines. After the HOF we wandered around the downtown area. Former Yankee and Brave Clete Boyer was there signing autographs for $25.00. Playing in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the salaries were still in the low pre-free agency era. One store was devoted solely to Yankees and Red Sox merchandise, and had some unique T-shirts. One store still had merchandise on the sidewalk, but the door was locked, with a “back in 10 minutes” notes posted. Turned out the merchant was downstairs pumping out his flooded basement! Doubleday Field is a nice old stadium just off the main street, where two MLB teams play the annual HOF game. During the summer teams book games there, though none going on due to the rain. Just south of the HOF is a park, and a large lake is just two blocks north of the Hall. Wednesday…More rain It was still raining Wednesday morning, but the single–elimination tournament was scheduled to begin anyway. I took a quick trip to town, but many roads were blocked due to the flooding. Parking lots were washed out, and one small store was in danger of being dragged into the creek. People couldn’t make it to work, and the hospital and HOF were closed. The Cougars had a first round bye, and played the Thunder from south Florida at 4 pm. It was a tight game. Will played another errorless game at shortstop, and had two putouts and an assist. He hit the ball hard all three times. In the fourth he drove the ball to right field, where the ball appeared to have been dropped, but the umpire said the fielder had made the diving catch. Will did single to left in the sixth and stole second, but he was stranded there. Clay had started the game and walked the first two Thunder batters. Both scored. Then Parker came in and pitched great…striking out five in 3-2/3 innings. He only walked one batter…who scored. The Thunder only managed two hits the entire game, but they made them count…driving in the three runners who had walked. The Cougars had six hits…exactly one every inning. They were only able to score one run. Will was brought in to pitch with two out in the last inning. He threw two pitches. The first hit a batter, but the second induced an easy grounder to end the inning. The Cougars lost 3 – 1, and were out of the tourney. We spent the evening watched some good baseball as the better teams kept advancing. I was shepherding players around and coordinating with their parents. Thursday…Another Loss. I woke to the sound of players thumping their batbags on the pavement in unison. I opened my eyes and glanced out the screen door…it was 7:45, and the players were dressed and headed to their 8:30 games. There would be consolation make-up games for the teams already bounced from the tourney, since so many were rained out in the days before. The schedule hadn’t come out the night before, so I was panicked. I ran out to the info board to find we were scheduled to play at 10:30…against the East Cobb Eagles. Most of the Cougars were spellbound by the talented opposition, blaming umpires and each other for their own mistakes. Will had another great game, reaching base twice, stealing second, scoring a run, and almost making another remarkable diving catch in center. Stretched out horizontal, he snowconed the ball…but when he landed, the ball popped out of the end of his glove. Batting second in the top of the first, the first pitch to Will came inside. Will turned away, but the pitch hit him in the helmet. It was immediately apparent that he was fine, and he stole second on the next pitch. He then took third on a wild pitch, and tagged up and scored from third on T.K.’s fly to left…a rare feat in Cooperstown. He came out of the game after the third inning, as the team had played these games batting only nine. Will re-entered the game in the 5th as an injury replacement, as the right-fielder. The first pitch was hit deep to right. Will caught the ball and fired home, as there was a runner tagging from third. The throw was perfect, and catcher Andrew made a one-handed catch and tagged the runner. Unfortunately Andrew slightly bobbled the ball, and the call was safe. Will finished the game having caught four flies in the outfield. The Cougars made 5 errors in the field, and lost 12 – 6. It was 12:30 in the afternoon. I would’ve liked to make the 7 pm Phillies game, but with more pictures to take, all the packing to do, many roads and highways washed out, and a thousand other details to take care off, it was logistically impossible. We also watched more playoff games and attended the closing ceremony, when everyone was awarded their Cooperstown ring. During the rainy championship game between two Florida teams I finally got to spend some time talking to my friends Frank McElwain and Steve Cannon, who had recruited Will for their travel team. Frank had been Will’s coach this year at Mt. Paran. I stayed up until 12:30 packing. Friday…New York City and Washington DC. With the remaining players and Coach Tom still asleep, Will and I tip-toed out and got on the road before 6 am. We headed north and east to Albany, then south to New Jersey. We circled Newark on the perimeter, and were doing so good on time that when we were ten miles from Staten Island, I decided to take Will on the Ferry. The drive across the island was interesting enough, and Will enjoyed the ferry ride past the huge bridges, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty to Manhattan. The fun detour took longer than I had hoped, and we had to hustle to Washington. The interstate through New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland was loaded with holiday traffic. Will enjoyed the large bridges and tunnel under Chesapeake Bay in Baltimore, but he slept most of the trip. We turned into the parking lot of Washington’s RFK Stadium at 5:25 pm, just missing the planned 5 pm arrival time. We had no trouble finding our friends Myron and Kirkland, and we enjoyed watching the Rays trounce the Nationals 12 – 1. There were no good spots to catch BP home runs, so we relaxed in our shady seats under the press box. New owner Stan Kasten struck a familiar pose, pacing behind the cage talking on his cell. We later saw him walking into the GMs box, and he was interviewed on the TV broadcast. Carl Crawford hit two homers, and Rocko Baldelli hit one. We stayed for the whole game, and didn’t make it to the Broadwells house in Fredericksburg until after midnight. We hung around socializing most of the morning, and more heavy traffic made the trip home take eleven hours. For the second straight day Will slept a good part of the trip.

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