A Diamond in the Rough (The Painfully Slow Evolution of a Baseball Team)

There are four measurements on a diamond: cut, clarity, color, and carrot.  There are four measurements on a baseball field: hitting, throwing, running and catching.  Both are measured in terms of perfection when it comes to a ring or the baseball field.

Talking to a scientist the other day, he informed me that a piece of crap, or a piece of coal, can turn into a diamond with enough pressure and time after several thousand years.  This was sad news.  Immortality is not my business.  He also informed me that diamonds are extremely costly.  I already knew that, but I questioned him further by asking why diamonds are just as expensive as going to a Seattle Mariner’s Baseball game.  He laughed at me and replied, “That’s why they call the field a diamond…..it’s really expensive, because it’s a place to witness perfection.”  Still shaking my head in disbelief, just like a child asks questions to an adult they can’t possibly answer, I asked “Don’t the Mariners play on a field then?”  My business is asking rhetorical questions.  My scientist friend knew he could not answer this question.  Therefore, I answered it for him.

Here we go.  “You see, scientist friend, when I grew up, I played on baseball fields.  These fields were plagued with weeds and gigantic rocks almost resembling erratics from the Great Missoula Floods.  The stands were filled with angry fathers not volunteering their time but volunteering their mouths during a game littered with nice kids, but crappy ballplayers.  There were these unusual ladies also showing up giving little advice, other than, “who is in charge of the treats at the next game?” Later on, I found out they were mothers.  I found it strange they didn’t even watch the game.  They did their nails, gossiped, and spoke evilly of their estranged husbands.  But, what baffled me the most was when their son struck out in four consecutive at bats on twelve consecutive pitches, the mother would hand him a soda, or a drumstick or a fruit roll up and say, “Wow, you were terrific today!”  Now if you say that to a real ballplayer after striking out, it adds kindling to the campfire.  It might smell good, but it still burns like hell.  So, the only proper thing to do as a real ballplayer is to toss the soda over a fence, beat one of your other crappy teammates with the drumstick and refrain from strangling your mother with the fruit roll up.  Then you head home and sneak a beer out of your father’s hidden stash in the basement.

Mr Scientist seemed to be getting bored with my explanation, so he wanted me to reach my point.  So, I told him that diamonds are supposed to be beautiful.  Since a field represents a little league ballpark, a baseball diamond should be saved for when you make it to the big leagues…….you know, like the guys I used to watch on T.V. and admired since I left the womb.  Those guys deserved to play on a Baseball Diamond.  The Seattle Mariners have a dynamite field, but let’s not go too far as to refer to it as a diamond.

I’ve been watching these guys play for 35 years.  If it takes another one thousand years to see them in the World Series, I’m clean out of luck.  This chunk of coal doesn’t have that much time to see a diamond, unless it’s on my wife’s finger.  I see that every day.

With all this being written atop my soap baseball box, I’m on my way to go see a chunk of coal on a baseball field at Keep me Safeco Field.  I’ll purchase a ticket, buy some Cracker Jacks, a dog and a beer, financing the diamond earrings the players will wear after the game and, hopefully, not become too embarrassed by the mothers and fathers misunderstanding the process of how long it takes a coal turn into a diamond.

That’s how much I love the game.



Trick or Treats (Big Gulp and the Bumble)

While maintaining the summertime theme, this title means absolutely zero regarding Halloween.  I’ll save that for my November blog.  Treats are reserved for those desiring Ding Dongs, Zingers, Wang Doodlers, Twinkies, Pong Paks, and Slappy Sams…..hold on……I may be confusing treats with fireworks. On the flip flop side, there are tricks.  Only one should be reserved for ballplayers!  AND IT’S NOT TREATS!

Let me calm down and explain.  My brother, Tom, and I coached a little league ball team one, and only one summer, for the tricks, not the treats. Coerced (manipulated) by Tom, I accepted the job (his son, Quinn, was a member of the team).  It was difficult denying his offer of no pay, jalapeno heat and pissed off parents knowing zippydadooda NOTHING about baseball.

Showing up at the ballpark two hours before the game, Tom, Russ (my pitching coach comrade), and I would prepare the field.  Russ was our non paid residential good person  preparing the mound for pitchers.  Preparing a mound requires far more time than raking and pounding dirt while sweating profusely.  That’s the easy part.  The hard part is keeping kids with dirt bikes trying to do bunny hops off the prepared pitcher’s mound.  We volunteered our time quite gracefully and enjoyed a few moments over those few hot months.  By a few, I think I mean two, or perhaps, what felt like, five. God Bless our souls.

That summer of coaching could best be characterized by the trinity of fans.  We had the Bumble, Big Gulp, and one other genuinely good man, named Earl, sponsoring  one of our players within the “Big Brother Organization”.  As a spectator and father, Big Gulp’s secondary concern was to bitch and moan about our coaching and where his son should be in the batting order or pitching rotation.  His primary concern was to drink an endless supply of Big Gulps during the game, thus increasing 7-11’s stock drastically in the 1990’s.  Luckily for us coaches, it was nice that he could stick something like a straw, 64 ounces of cola or his foot in his mouth, sparing us from additional whining.

Tom, Russ and I were growing weary of this fellow, but when recognizing someone actually has something, mentally, wrong with them, you make a conscience decision not to beat the hell out of them.  One fine day, ruined by having to coach little league baseball, Tom received a phone call from Big Gulp.  Big Gulp (he reads like a comic book hero) gave notice to Tom that he would not be attending the day’s game, but wanted his son to be the starting pitcher.  Diplomatically, Tom said there was a chance his son may start but wished to speak with me, the assistant coach,before making the decision.  None too pleased with Tom’s non guarantee,  Big Gulp provided meaningless statistics in an attempt to solidify his argument.  Without succumbing to persuasion, and out of curiosity, Tom side swiped the conversation by asking Big Gulp why he wouldn’t be in the stands, or grass that day.  Turns out, Big Gulp had an Elvis Presley impersonation gig that day out of town.  We stopped hating him and felt sorry for him and his child from that day forth.  It did explain some things……such as the side burns.  That was one of the enjoyable moments.

Photo courtesy of Washington State Dept of Motor Vehicles and Licensing

Bumbles don’t really bounce.  The gentleman, or sidekick, perhaps band member of Big Gulp was a man we affectionately labeled “The Bumble”.  His son, equally as crappy as Big Gulp’s, also played on the team.  By play, I mean he wore a uniform and carried a bat.  The Bumble, however, was exceptionally nice, but maintained a gift of gabble, or babble.  Though maintaining his kindness and good sportsmanship, he simply never shut up.

Referencing “The Bumble”, only those thirsting for Rudolph, Charlie Brown, Frosty, and countless other 1970’s classics may remember.  The Bumble was introduced as a Yeti slash Sasquatch like creature haunting, in fact terrifying, bedrooms, closets and tinsel town themed animated Christmas neighborhoods.  That poor giant biped turned out to be a cute, cuddly, furry creature who no one really understood…..other than Tom and me…..until we met the real Bumble.

Humor is so medicinal.  Sometimes it comes without words.  It does arrive with hand or feet gestures, or even a smug grin acknowledging the ridiculousness of a situation.  Suffering through these baseball games, Tom, Russ, I and anyone within 100 miles of this ballpark yearned for something more than mere humor.   We sought relief.  Not from the heat or children who hadn’t tossed a ball before 10 years of age, let alone conception, we just wished to find some solace with summer.  The Bumble provided that solace one day when Tom looked at me and said, “Do you know who he looks like?”.  I replied, “Yeah, The Bumble”.  Tom and I both laughed and the summer felt like winter, without the storms, the ice, red noses and frozen fingers.  Once again, I loved baseball.

Coaching anything requires patience, knowledge, persistence, acceptance, sternness, and two or three straight jackets.  Representing the civilized world, Earl was one of the few members of the baseball and athletic community certifying why sports, humanity, and humility can coexist.

As an intimidating figure, one of which upon approaching Tom and me after a game, we collectively said, “Oh boy, here we go again.  How is this guy going to educate us about the sport of baseball?”  This man approached us, presented his hand, and said, in the most kind and genuine of ways, “Thank you… you have done a wonderful job”.  Acknowledging we hadn’t done a wonderful job, we exhaled relief knowing someone cared not just about baseball, but two or three cats taking time out of their schedule to coach the art of baseball.  This man who approached us was working full time and mentoring a young man who has turned out to be a wonderful adult.  I think that’s when we stopped bitching about summer.

Tom and I were speechless.  Simply, we replied, “You’re welcome”.

Formerly, I was going to bitch about the treats required by parents after a game.  Tom and I received a request to provide treats after the last game.  Our reply was, in a Gannonuttshell……”Negative”.

On a sideshow note,  regarding the appreciative and nice intimidating guy approaching Tom and me following the game……well, twelve years later, I married his daughter.  Isn’t baseball miraculous?  What a treat!

Waste Paper Service



This story is not about a picture of two young ganstas deciding to, idiotically, take a photo in a coin operated photo booth.  Rather, it is about a hat and an ice cream man who created the hat.  The WPS displayed on my brother Tom’s hat represented Waste Paper Service, a youth baseball team Tom was playing for and the business we were representing.   I was merely the bat boy for two reasons: one, I was too young to legally play on the team, and two, that name (Waste Paper Service) was just far too embarrassing. We were the Bad News Bears of Spokane, Washington.

Our coach and local Ice Cream Man, Walt Mabe, a Vietnam Veteran, had a passion for baseball and a further passion for arguing with umpires.  Having  utmost respect for any veteran, Coach Mabe was no exception.  This brave man had his left leg removed after stepping on a land mine while fighting in Vietnam.  However, he maintained some idiosyncrasies which must be acknowledged.  First of which being that his ice cream truck was the only one which didn’t play the traditional jingle, “The Entertainer”…he would play “Ride (Flight) of the Valkyries” from “Apocalypse Now”.  Additionally, the baseball games we played would usually last upwards of 17 or 18 hours because he kept a rule book handy in his wooden leg which he would pull out on an inning by inning basis.  As a Catholic, it would create an image of a baseball priest providing a homily after each strike or ball.  Those poor umpires, making about 4 cents an hour with coach Mabe’s rants, are now, hopefully, and deservedly in some sort of baseball heaven.

I’m sure my brothers Tom and Greg will provide additional commentary on Walt’s quirks.  Yet, I will quickly present the most memorable one.  While taking infield practice, (for those of you who despise or know nothing about baseball, this is when the coach hits ground balls and fly balls to the players prior to the first pitch of the game), rather than using a bat, and I kid you negative, coach Mabe would use his wooden leg.  Going to the ballpark was always genuinely interesting being coached by this good man. Bless his baseball soul and his wooden leg.

Just a typical Spokane little league experience.  You play for a team sponsored by and named after toilet paper, coached by a man with a wooden leg who uses it as a bat, and the games would last 16 or 17 hours.  Yet, I still love the game of baseball.

(All is true with exception of the ice cream truck jingles.)