It Happens Every Spring

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It was in 2004 that Pullitzer Prize-winning author Ira Berkow published “Making Contact” in Chicago Magazine as a follow-up to his original article on Jim Woods in 1986.  The article is reprinted under the title of Jim Woods: At 17, and in the Big Leagues in a beautiful collection of Berkow pieces, It Happens Every Spring.

As Berkow tells it, Jim Woods was an extraordinary teenage phenom, jumping from high school in 1957 at age 17 straight to Wrigley Field in the dugout alongside Ernie Banks.  Although he didn’t record an official at bat that year, appearing in two games as a pinch-runner, he is part of Phillies folklore in being part of the trade that sent our beloved Richie Ashburn to the Cubs in 1960 in exchange for Johnny Buzhardt, Alvin Dark, and Woods.  The Phils were so bad in those days, losing 95 games in 1960 and 107 games in 1961, that Woods was their rep as the Topps 1961 Rookie card with a paper bag over his head.  Not literally, but his red helmet is missing the red “P”, and his uniform missing the Phillies across his chest, as if he’d prefer not to be identified with the club.  In those two years, he slash line was .207/.275/.628 in 82 ABs.  His claim to fame as a pinch-hitter was crushing a pitch from Sandy Koufax off the top of the screen in left-center at the Los Angeles Coliseum.  Sent down to the minors after the 1961 at age 21, Woods never made it back to The Show.

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As the Winter baseball meeting ended in Las Vegas this week, I was reminded of how many promising young ballplayers don’t succeed in the majors.  Berkow’s piece is a wonderful human interest story about a kid he grew up with who aspired to greatness in the sport, but made the best of life despite falling short of his baseball dreams.

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Better With Age

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On page 70 of his marvelous book, Alan Castel cites creative contributions that artists have made later in life, both large and small.  Some of those have even come in the face of considerable challenges, such as Monet’s famous water lily paintings which he began at age 73 while plagued by serious visual issues.

I have blogged about the art of Jeffrey Packard before, and our having fallen out of touch is principally due to my shortcomings as a friend.  But thanks to the attributes of Facebook, Jeff has been sharing his later–in-life work with me and many others.

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There is something very striking about Jeff’s current artistry, and the way he diffuses color and light.

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Jeff’s dream-like representation of Jacob and the Ladder lends itself naturally to clarity embedded in haziness, the essence of which he beautifully captures.  But what about this one?

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Jeff tags it as:  “…Isaac his father who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are Esau’s hands.”

The biblical verse that introduces that scene is as follows:  It happened, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esav his elder son, and said to him, “My son?” He said to him, “Here I am.”

What a gift Jeff has to be able to represent biblical passages this way.  The clarity of Isaac’s eyesight had waned, but as is often the case his other senses sharpened in compensation.  The multiple foci in the painting create the perfect framework for this gradation in senses, and the continuum between certainty and doubt.

My friend, Jeff, has put his remarkable resilience on display.

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It’s Over, Johnny.

Well, our Phillies/Scorpions fell short of their goal to get into the championship game of the Arizona Fall League.  As the “regular” six week season came to a close yesterday, before the championship game schedules for tomorrow, Scottsdale found itself finishing in last place in the AFL East due to being on the wrong side of a walk-off.  As it turns out their tie against Mesa – the only tie of the campaign – prevented a one game playoff that would otherwise have been held today between the Solar Sox and Rafters.

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Other than our ace Forrest Whitley from the Astros, the star of the show for the Scorpions was Peter Alonso, a promising Mets prospect.  Big but agile around first base, Peter finished with the team lead in HRs and RBIs.  Here he stretches his big frame and size 15 shoes to nab Vlad Guerrero Jr. at first base.

With the lack of power at the major league level for the Mets, there’s a good chance that my great nephew Rami (big Mets fan) will see Peter in the Show at Citi Field by 2020 if not sooner.  Hence the autographed ball for him from Peter (shhh … don’t tell him — it’s a surprise!).

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Part of the charm of the Fall League is its informality and accessibility for fans of all ages.

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The fact that you can hear a pin drop at the game because the fans number in the hundreds instead of the thousands lends to its allure.  Yet it also means that you can hear the occasional knucklehead intent on piercing the calm.  Thankfully they’re as rare at the games as knuckleballs.

I will miss the crisp morning air in Arizona, water aerobics in the pool, and the warmth of the sun in the stadium.  But most of all, I’ll miss the crack of the bat until Spring Training.  Watch out!

 

 

 

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Staying Alive

Well the Scorpions did yesterday what we said they had to do in order to keep their championship hopes alive.  But before we get to that, I’ll mention a great story in USA Today via the Arizona Republic about Twins’ Fall League prospect Griffin Jax, a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force that you can read about here.

As for the game itself, the home plate umpire seemed to be having a tough time of it and was called out by Coop on a questionable third strike that made no one on the Scorpions side happy but delighted the platinum fan clapping and gesticulating bend the Rafters dugout (yes, that’s the infamous Susan).

 

Sons of famous ballplayers in the Fall League this year include Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio, and the catcher for the Rafters yesterday had a last name that was famous in Philly.  Daulton Varsho’s father, Gary, was a teammate of Darren Daulton on the 1995 Phils, and no doubt that influenced his choice of a first name when his only son was born the following year.  Varsho was the Phillies bench coach from 2002 through 2006 and served as interim manager for the last two games of the 2004 season after Larry Bowa was canned.  Speaking of bench coaches, there were quite a few guests from the Phils’ organization populating the Scorpions’ bench yesterday. IMG_8851 Rounding out the attendance were two of the Phillies’ ardent supporters, sitting adjacent to the dugout on the first base side (photo courtesy of Dave Neubart). IMG_7585xJPG Rounding out the celebrities in attendance was Marty Lurie, radio announcer for the San Francisco Giants, sporting his 2014 World Series Ring. IMG_8866 IMG_8865 Tyler Viza, Phillies starting pitching prospect, was on the mound and although he’s had mixed results this spring saved his best performance for his last start.  He pitched to contact, garnered a bunch of “Atta Boys” and exited to high fives all around.

 

 

 

 

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Turning, Hope, and Inflection Points

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The current issue of Parabola magazine contains a marvelous article by Kenneth Krushel on his visit with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in Israel.  In it, he describes how he came to request the use of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s writing on Teshuva as inspiration for an article about hope.  Rabbi Steinsaltz writes of teshuvah as meaning “repentance,” from the root meaning “to turn.”  Teshuvah denotes a turning about, a response, a curve, an arc.

Krushel’s article gave me pause to consider these turnings or re-turnings as inflection points.  In the calculus of business this is a stage at which growth changes it’s curve either in an upward or downward trend.

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Inflection points occur in personal growth as well.  A person with whom I shared the article in Parabola said it reminded her of the arc and theme of “Little Kite”.

This, in turn, inspired her to sketch the symbolism of a kite hovering above the inflection of Teshuva (re-turning) and Tikvah (hope).

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Home Stretch Begins With a Walk-off

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So here we are, in the last week of the Fall League Season, with Peoria having clinched the AFL West but the East still up for grabs.  Yesterday’s Salt River extra innings loss coupled with a Scottsdale walk-off kept our Scorpions mathematically alive in the East.  With three games left, the Scorpions need to win all three and Salt River has to lose their  three remaining games.  Should that happen, the Scorpions can go to the championship game depending on what Mesa does.  If Mesa wins all three they finish with a better record; but if Mesa wins two of three they tie with the Scorpions and presumably have a one and done tiebreaker game on Friday before the Championship Game on Saturday.

Phils’ first base prospect Darick Hall needed to put up better numbers in the Fall League than his .224/.713 at Reading in order to have a shot at advancing to AAA.  Frankly even with a stellar showing for the Scorpions, the emergence of Rhys Hoskins at 1B for the Phils probably meant that Hall would begin the spring in AA.  Hall began the Fall slowly with the Mets’ prospect Peter Alonso making more of his opportunities playing first base.  But lately Darick has been pummeling the ball, and as he came to bat as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 9th yesterday with the bases loaded and Scottsdale down 4-2, he had a chance to position the home team for a walk-off.

Sure enough, “Big D” worked a 3-2 count and, after fouling off some tough pitches, came through with a solid base hit to right plating a runner from third and pulling the Scorpions to within a run.  In his last 5 games, Darick has gone 7 for 16 with 2 HRs and 5 RBIs, pushing his Fall numbers thus far to a resepctable .250/.772.  His 4 HRs and 12 RBIs places him second on the team in those power categories to Peter Alonso’s 5 HRs and 19 RBIs, while Pete’s overall numbers have dipped to .222/.737.  That set the stage for the Mets’ twenty year-old light-hitting prospect Andres Gimenez to be the hero which he promptly did by lining a shot into the left/center field gap to earn the Gatorade walk-off.

Although we tend to dwell on the noise that bats make, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the stellar outing by Phils’ prospect Luke Leftwich tossing 1.2 scoreless innings to keep his ERA at zero point zero, and lower his WHIP to 0.87 over 8 games.  Our Scorpions are in Scottsdale again this afternoon, this time to knock off the front running Salt River Rafters, while pulling for Peoria to beat Mesa.  Should that happen, it will pave the way for an exciting finish to the Fall.

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Sampling the “A” List

1,000 Books To Read Before You Die, the life-changing list I blogged about yesterday, is a book compiled by James Mustich that lends itself to serial reading in bite size chunks.  The second of the thousand entries features the book “Flatland”, drawing it’s early alphabetical placement because it is authored by Edwin Abbott.  Here is Mustich’s description:

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“A novel of mathematical whimsy, Flatland is set in the peculiar world that provides the book’s name and is home to the putative author, A. Square, a two-dimensional being in a world inhabited by lines, triangles, circles, and polygons.  Ingeniously composed as a kind of dystopian memoir, Flatland is a stunning piece of social satire, depicting with great acuity the gender and class distinctions of Victorian Britain … Abbott starkly represents the risks of nonconformity through the society’s treatment of irregular shapes: Figures lacking proper angles or embodying disproportions of one kind or another are consigned to a disadvantaged underclass.  What happens when a Sphere appears to initiate A. Square into the mysteries of three dimensions?  Well, all hell breaks loose for our protagonist, and nothing ever looks the same.  Abbott’s notions about the larger conundrums posed by different dimensions and their relationships to one another were ahead of their time, mathematically speaking, but the enduring fascination of his fable is its depiction of the perils of making the world simpler than it is, no matter how elegantly provable that simplicity may seem.”

The post-script after Abbot’s entry indicates two media adaptations of the book, both released in 2007.   Flatland: The Movie

… and Flatland: The Film.

Both of these films are of considerable length, so to give you a more manageable adaptation of Abbot’s Flatland, I found this TED-Ed clip:

Point being, the pastiche that is Mustich’s List will take you to dimensions and heights that you never imagined.  In that sense, Abbot’s Flatland is only a teaser.  The deeper you read into the book, the more impressive it becomes.

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