Little League

After a two year hiatus we got back to playing Little League. I’ve missed it. Weird being in the kid pitch division but also great since it looks like baseball. We had a great team this year with about 8 kids who could throw, almost all of which turned up to every event early and ready to play. A super positive group which might spoil me moving forward.

My youngest went into the season a bit shy and scared of pitching and came out of it with more self confidence than I ever expected. Not only did he turn out to be one of the most accurate pitchers in the league (1.11 WHIP when the league average WHIP is probably over 5) but he was willing to participate in the home run derby in front of everyone. We’re incredibly proud of him.

I was no longer a head coach since tweaking mechanics and stuff like hat is way beyond my ken. Instead I signed out to help out in the dugout and as a result, had a lot more time to take photos. Especially when our team is in the field.

One of these days I’ll get a proper autofocus lens which but for now I’m still using manual glass and prefocusing on things like the mound and home plate. I can’t complain about the results though. It’s nice to be able to send these to the parents and it’s nice for my kids to be able to see them as well.

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Project 1991

A couple Christmases ago my eldest received his godfather’s set of 1991 Topps. When we started going to Trenton Thunder games that spring I realized that a lot of the coaches coming through town were players in 1991. And so a project was born. That year we tried to get as many of his 1991 Topps cards signed as we could.

Turns out it was just four—Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, and two Frank Violas—but we had big plans for 2020 and were excited to continue. Yeah that never happened, but during that year my youngest ended up with a set of 1991 Score and so he decided to join us on this quest in 2021.

We’ve been working them the past two years now. Casey Candeale. Jeff Manto. Derrick May. Scott Bradley. Dennis Rasmussen. It’s been a lot of fun and gives them an entry into those 1991 sets.* They may not know all the players but they’re connecting to them as coaches. And by being pulling cards they end up really looking at the sets and how their photography is different.

*I have previously wondered about what it means to collect cards of players you don’t know.

It’s also just been fun for my eldest’s godfather to watch as well since it’s not just letting a set sit in storage they’re doing something with the cards. Every time we get one signed I send him a text to show the new addition.

My eldest is up to ten cards now.* In an ideal world this would be twelve but we missed out on Devon White with Buffalo/Trenton and Pete Incaviglia with Sugar Land.

*Yeah I know I haven’t mentioned Jim Gott yet. Just keep reading.

My youngest meanwhile has seven. He missed out on Oliver, Harper and Viola in 2019 but picked up Oliver this year.

The interesting thing this year is that these went from being a bunch of individual projects to something we’re all doing together. When we got Dennis Rasmussen’s autograph, my eldest couldn’t make the game but my youngest insisted on bringing the Topps card. He was just as happy, if not happier, to get a card signed for his brother as he was to get his own signed.

Last weekend neither boy could make the game so I ended up going alone. Jim Gott was the visiting pitching coach and was super nice abut signing the boys’ cards but also signed a couple for me as well.

I was only going to ask for the 1986 (I usually limit myself to two so pushing to four felt wrong) but he just asked to sign everything. I’d gotten him TTM a few years ago but in person is always better. I texted the boys a photo of their signed cards as soon as I sat down. Very fun. I won’t make a habit of doing this for them since the entire point is that we’re doing it together but once in a while is acceptable. Plus Gott was another guy who we’d missed last year.

I also got a pair of cards signed by Trenton pitching coach Shawn Chacon. Chacon may be most famous for how his career ended but hung around in the majors for eight years before then. This was another fun request where the Draft League players got super excited to see their coach have real MLB baseball cards. Just goes to show how much cards mean in terms of having made it to the show.

This pair of cards also filled two holes in my one-per-year pseudo project. For 1957–2021 I’m now just missing 1971, 1996, and 1999* which still boggles my childhood mind.

*I’ve got a reprint in the 1971 slot on the tracking page.

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Anyway aside from the autographs Trenton opened the stadium a half hour earlier than usual which meant that I got to watch batting practice for the first time in ages. Game started off great too. Super crisp with the Trenton pitcher being lights out in the first three innings.

Sadly the wheels fell off in the 4th and he game degenerated into everything you’d fear about the draft league. Bad pitching. Sloppy defense. Local fans weren’t happy and I can tell they’re not used to this level of play after a couple decades in AA.

Trenton ended up losing 12–8, outhitting State College 14-6 but also committing 5 errors and walking 4 guy in one inning.

Track and Field

I hesitate to say that things are back to normal but the new normal has at least opened up school sports to my eldest in a way he didn’t have last year. Even last fall, since vaccines weren’t yet available to all kids, the travel squad was super small and so we only had an opportunity to see a couple cross country races. This spring though I’ve had a chance to go to a bunch of track meets and take different photos of the kids. I’m not shooting for art or anything, these are just photos for the parents who I know. But it’s been a lot of fun to follow their progress and see how they all support each other.

And it was a good program for my son too. He’s not fast but he’s enjoying getting better and spending time with his friends. Track doesn’t cut anyone and encourages all kids who want to work hard to come out. And work hard he did. Lots of practice and it was wonderful to see his results as he chopped over 40 seconds off his 1600m time and over 15 seconds off his 800m time. Both of those were huge improvements that went far beyond what he thought he was capable of doing.

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Back in Trenton

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The biggest problem with Trenton being in the Draft League now is that the season doesn’t start until June. This is a shame since I really like the Trenton baseball experience and cutting over two months off the season makes me feel like I’ve been robbed.

Anyway the season finally started and my youngest and I made our way out to the ballpark last Friday night. Frederick was in town and their coaching staff is all former Major League players so we got there early to hang over the rail. This is a lot of fun with the low-key nature of the Draft League. Zero autograph hounds prospecting just a couple older fans who remember guys from their youth.

Which meant that we just got to hang out at the railing and watch the grounds crew set up the field and just get ourselves into the mood of things. It’s relaxing just being there and my youngest is perfectly happy to pay attention to how the field is set up before the game and get fist bumps (and a lump of gum) from the players as they warm up.

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We had great seats for the game too, Right behind the dugout just safe enough behind the screen. Draft League games seem to be pretty fast and crisp. Maybe not the best defense but the pitching is good and Trenton puts on a good show so you don’t realize that you’re at the lowest possible MiLB rung.

They really do deserve a full season team.

So we got a crisp 2–0 Trenton win in about two and a half hours. Frederick was held to one hit and aside from one string of three singles in a row, Trenton never manufactured much danger either. Might’ve been a little quicker but the last half of the game was a bit Spring Training-like with wholesale substitutions from both sides that made keeping score a bit of a pain.

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All in all a perfect night with the only blemish being that they sold out of Pork Roll by the third inning. My youngest got autographs from both Joe Oliver and Dennis Rasmussen. We’d gotten Oliver a couple years ago but since then my youngest had picked up a 1991 Score set that he’s working the same way my eldest is working 1991 Topps and getting cards signed by all the coaches that come through town. To-date that’s been Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, Frank Viola, Casey Candeale, Jeff Manto, Derrick May, Scot Bradley, and Dennis Rasmussen.* And he also got a practice ball and some scorekeeping practice.

*We’ve missed a few too including Devon White, Pete Incaviglia, and Jim Gott.

Was fun getting a chance to talk to Rasmussen and Oliver too. This level is very laid back and I can see they’re enjoying teaching. Rasmussen was wearing an MLBPAA shirt and seemed tickled that I both noticed and liked it. Oliver meanwhile was chilling in the dugout when one of the players noticed my youngest had a card and went to bring it to him. So he came over and chatted a bit.

Yeah I also got a handful of cards signed. Nice to add Rasmussen and I picked two Oliver cards with photos I really liked. I got Angel Sanchez after the game and that was fun too. He seemed a bit surprised that I had cards and when he was signing all the Spanish-speaking players crowded around to take a look and were excited to see them. Sanchez asked to keep a card as well.

I’m happy to have this one since it means that I finally have a 2011 Topps card in the album leaving me only a few years short of something that would truly blow my childhood mind. Since I wrote that post I’ve filled things in quite a bit and am now missing only 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2007 (and a non-reprint 1971) to have a signed Topps card for each year from 1957–2021.

Time Capsule

Way back when the pandemic started I decided to load some film and take photos of my kids remote schooling and other things as we were all suck at home together. I figured it would be a nice project to work on until things got better. I’ve been having problems for a while getting into the photography groove again and hoped this would help.

Yeah I know. Things never got better. Yes the kids made it back to school for  relatively normal year but I never got into a groove. Still haven’t really. I forgot about my roll in 2020 and only picked it up to kill it a couple months ago. Then I found out that the place where I used to develop film had shut down during the pandemic and had to find a new one.

Was a lot of fun to finally see my pictures though. I haven’t had a  proper time capsule like this in decades.

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I also discovered that I did take my camera out a couple times in summer 2020 and winter 2020/21 even though I’d completely forgotten doing so.

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And the last couple of shots killing the roll this year.

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Home Opener

It’s cold this week but last Saturday was one of those weird spring days which alternated between being cold, drizzly, & miserable and being warm & sunny. Not the best day for a baseball game but with Princeton not having played a season in 2020 and 2021 I was well overdue for some college ball and there was no was I was going to miss the game.

As much as I love pro baseball, I spent way too many years going to Stanford games and associating the ringing of metal bats and chatter from the dugouts with the true beginning of the year. My soul needed the reset especially after the past couple of years.

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Yale was in town for both the home and Ivy League opener and while Ivy League ball isn’t to the standard of Pac 10* ball it was a nice crisp game. Made it through four and a half innings in an hour with starter working quickly and into and out of jams. Both struggled in the 6th as Yale strung some hits together to manufacture two runs before each team hit a solo home run. Then the last couple innings were a return to form.

*Having never ben to a Pac 12 game I’ll have a hard time calling it that. I really just miss the original Six Pac which I grew up with.

Princeton rallied in the bottom of the ninth by putting runners on the corner with one out and getting the go-ahead run to the plate. Unfortunately, while the scored a second run on a sacrifice fly, Yale threw out the runner trying to advance to second and ended the game with one of the weirdest sacrifice double plays you’ll ever see. An exciting end for Yale and a gutting one for Princeton as he game ended 3–2.

We didn’t stay for the second game* since the weather looked to be deteriorating and the boys were getting cold.** We did however manage to get cards signed by both John Stuper and Scott Bradley before we headed home.

*Ivy League ball involves two 9-inning games in a Saturday doubleheader followed by a single Sunday game. 

**Game 2 was not as crisp either with Princeton making 6 errors and Yale scoring seven runs in one inning en route to a 14–8 win. It also snowed on Sunday so we didn’t even think about going to the final game.

Stuper has been the Yale coach since 1993 and is a really nice guy. He chatted with us as he was signing and I know he’s been good to people via TTM as well. The boys like that he won a World Series in 1982.

Bradley meanwhile has been the Princeton coach since 1998. I asked him about the 1986 Donruss card where he’s holding four gloves and he said it’s because he was goofing around and having some fun with the photo due to being a utility guy. While I was aware of the four gloves I had not noticed that he was listed in three different positions on the card as well.

Nice to get Bradley’s signature out of the way in game one too. My eldest continued his 1991 Topps quest (he’s up to eight cards now) and now we can just go to subsequent games this year without looking out for autographs.

Lockout

The summer of 1994 I had just finished my sophomore year in high school. I was already poised to make all kinds of adolescent transitions out of my childhood interests but the baseball strike hit at sort of the perfect time to really solidify things regarding baseball and baseball cards. I stopped collecting cold turkey. All my 1994 cards went into a box and stayed there for 25 years and I even gave up on collecting autographs.

I also stopped paying attention to major league baseball in general for a few years. The back half of high school has so many other things to pay attention to—both in-school and outside it—that I didn’t even miss it. I still wore a Giants cap all the time, but it was really more out of tradition than anything else.

I did however wear this tshirt. A lot. Sort of surprised I didn’t get in trouble for it* but it was a constant part of my wardrobe even through college. As much as I worked my way back into being a fan after the 1997 pennant race I never felt the same about MLB. I kept it at an arm’s reach, did not get caught up in the 1998 Home Run chase, and even drifted away again in the mid 2000s when the press focused only on Barry Bonds.**

*Also not surprised at all that in a landscape of Coed Naked and Big Johnson tshirts the teachers actually approved of this.

**Took one summer of headlines which only described what Bonds did and never bothered to mention who won the fucking game for me to check out completely.

Yes the 2002 World Series hurt. But it didn’t hurt like 1987 hurt. While I don’t miss being that kid in 1987 for whom baseball was the most important thing in the world, I’m sad about how I had to learn that detachment by having it ripped from me all a once. And I have to recognize that not only did I wear that shirt for over 6 years, I still have it and keep the photo on my phone as a reaction image. In other words, I still feel the wound.

Which makes the current lockout hurt doubly. Being able to experience baseball with my kids brought me closer to the game than I’d been in decades. Watching them get into it. Taking them to their first games. I’ve been aware of the impending work stoppage for years now; I even began warning them about it in 2019. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

MLB does everything it can to make games inaccessible for kids. Local blackouts make it impossible to watch anything if you don’t have cable TV. Games routinely start after bedtime and playoff games routinely end after midnight. Ticket prices make it impossible to go in person. No national radio broadcasts of playoffs. But despite this mine held in there and not only learned to love the game but displayed a maturity as fans which frequently caught me by surprise.

When the Giants traded Andrew McCutchen to the Yankees in 2018 my eldest immediately asked if anyone from Trenton was involved in the trade. They’ve been able to recognize how much fun teams like the White Sox and Rays are despite MLB’s best efforts to hype the Dodgers and Yankees. They decided they both wanted to be Giants fans even though 2018 and 2019 were pretty dire seasons. They can even sit through and keep score of an entire game.

It’s been a ton of fun to experience it all with them. 2019 was a great year of in-person baseball. 2020 was stolen from us. And 2021 was magic. Despite being stuck in New Jersey we all got to follow along to the best Giants season of my life.

And then as of yesterday my eldest is done. He’s not fully out. But he’s decided he’s not a baseball-first guy anymore. I can’t blame him. He was already one of the few baseball fans at his junior high and this is really the last straw. I fully understand the hurt he feels but as a parent it sucks. He’s hurt in the same way I was in 1994. And I’m hurt because just like that something we shared is gone. For good.

We’ll still go to college ball. Hopefully some Minor League ball as well. But a lot of the appeal there is in the promise. As much as baseball is baseball, there’s also something to the fact that these guys might make it to the show. I’m sure we’ll still have fun. But I also know we lost something that was special.

The youngest isn’t done yet. He’s back in Little League after a 2-year COVID hiatus* and has always liked the game a lot more anyway. But if the MLB powers have their say I fear his days as a fan are numbered too.

*That my eldest lost his last Little League seasons didn’t help his attachment to the game either.

Minor League Baseball has been our thing and that’s what MLB has been trying to ruin the most. I’m happy that I’ll be able to go to minor league ball this summer but I’m also going to feel really skeezy about it. MLB is locking out players because they want to cut payroll and maximize their profit. Me switching my baseball consumption to underpaid non-unionized players at such a moment is almost being complicit with MLB.

I also know that I won’t be buying myself, or them, any fan apparel while this is going on. Even though this is traditionally some of their favorite stuff to receive. Hopefully there will be some fun unlicensed stuff on Etsy to cushion things. And on the topic of licensing I have to have a serious think about whether I’m done with Topps cards as long as there’s a lockout. No licensed goods means no licensed goods and maybe this is the year to buy Donruss only.

This is a lot of change to deal with and I’ll explain it all to them. It’s a tough lesson to learn this young about not letting a company take you for granted as a consumer but if they can voluntarily give up palm oil they can handle anything.