Results tagged ‘ Opening Day ’

Opening Day: A National Holiday

By Trevor Hayes

Today should be a national holiday. Close down the schools, shutter the offices, go home and watch baseball.

While I know this will never happen, Opening Day might be the best day of the year. Of course you’ve got the other big holidays, like Christmas, the MLB All-Star Game, New Year’s, the start and finish of the World Series and Thanksgiving. But one thing Opening Day has – shining over all the others – is the fresh start not only of the baseball season but also the beginning of summer. Yes, today’s predicted high of 47 degrees in Cooperstown isn’t exactly summer weather, but you can’t deny thinking of glorious summer days when talking about baseball.

Diehards of perennial basement dwellers like myself (a Royals fan) or say my boss (a Pirates supporter) always welcome the day in which every team is in first – though that’s not exactly true today because of last night’s opener and the Japan Series last week. Regardless, Opening Day is a day of hope, when dreamers see their franchises lifting the World Series trophy.

A fresh start. That’s what today is about. And that’s something that can be applicable to anyone, not just us seamheads who celebrate today more fervently than Columbus Day – a day which many people do get to take off.

The first Opening Day I really remember was 1994. I was too young and too new of a baseball fan – having just moved to Kansas City the prior summer – to have negative many memories of the strike. So for me, that season is marked more by my first real summer of being a baseball fan. And on Opening Day in 1994, in Mrs. Wood’s third grade classroom, the Royals game played. I bragged to my friends that my dad was in the crowd that day and vowed to go the next season. It was the coolest day of school ever, watching baseball while pretending to do math homework at my desk.

Of course it wasn’t until 2007, my first season working for the Royals, that I got to go to my first Opening Day. I skipped two classes to go and my college professors weren’t mad, instead they were jealous that I was going and they had to stay and teach.

This will be my first year not attending the Royals home opener since 2007 and I’m a little sad. Even the last three years while living here in Cooperstown, I’ve flown back home to make my pilgrimage. This year though, I’m holding out my annual Kansas City baseball trek for the All-Star Game, which will be a memorable experience in itself, but I’m sad my streak will end this season and more sad that I probably won’t make it to a major league game in April.

But I know that this Opening Day will be just as memorable as the last 18 I’ve spent as a baseball fan, watching the tickers, coming the Internet for updates while trying to get work done. It’ll be like those years in high school and college when I tried to glean every possible stat I could.

I know I won’t be as productive today as I am normally. How could I? It’s Opening Day. It’s the start to the National Pastime, the beginning of summer and a clean slate. Those sound like good enough reasons to me for a new national holiday.

Hope springs eternal today. I know in my heart the Royals will make the playoffs and win the World Series – and I wish each and every one of you a happy Opening Day!

Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Splitt’s perfect delivery never wavered

By Trevor Hayes

Sports are a distraction and escapism from the world. But they can teach us, too. Athletes show us what it means to do out best and serve as role models for ideals like character, courage, perseverance and dedication.

Wednesday morning when I got to work, a co-worker informed me that Paul Splittorff had passed away. I wasn’t shocked, but I am still deeply saddened. Nine days ago, the Royals announced that the longtime broadcaster and club leader in victories had oral cancer and melanoma.

There’s no way I can write something better or more comprehensive about the passing of Splittorff than what the fine folks at the Kansas City Star and with the Royals have already produced.

What I can say is that it was a pleasure to have Splitt in my life and relate what he meant to me. I worked for the Royals in 2007 and 2008 and got the chance to meet the “Ole Lefthander” a few times. Unfortunately, in 2008 when I worked in the press box, he was taking a hiatus from broadcasting after an illness robbed him of his voice. During the 2008 Big 12 basketball season, Splitt – who called it all from Royals baseball to college basketball and high school football – was forced to take a break from broadcasting due to a virus that also caused him to lose weight.

Ever determined – a trait that he exhibited from day one in the Royals organization – he worked his way back to the booth and was doing analysis on Opening Day in 2009. His speech slurred and voice shaky, he left the team during the middle of an early season road trip. It was too much, too soon. Ultimately, he never fully returned to his year-round second career, but he was always working to get there.

Last season he worked mostly on pre- and post-game shows, which I unfortunately couldn’t see living out of the K.C. market. Even up to the announcement of his battle with cancer on May 16, Splitt was still working – almost 27 years after moving seamlessly from the field to the booth.

He retired in July 1984 – I was born in November of that year – to make room for the Royals young staff to grow despite earning a spot on the team with a club high 13 wins the season before. He was a workhorse. A career .537 win percentage and 166 victories with a 3.81 ERA and 88 complete games – his numbers aren’t flashy. In 1990 he didn’t receive a vote from the BBWAA for Hall of Fame election – but he is a Kansas City legend: a 1987 Inductee to the Royals Hall of Fame, the team’s first 20-game winner and its leader in victories since 1975.

The closest I ever came to seeing him pitch is from video highlights and that ESPN miniseries “The Bronx is Burning” from a years back. A generation older friends and family can tell me all about his dominance on the mound and the numerous memorable matchups with the hated Yankees in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I joined the Splittorff bandwagon in 1993 when my family moved to Kansas City – nine years after his 14-season playing career came to a close. K.C.’s Ford C. Frick Award winner, Denny Mathews, never broadcast on TV much and as a typical kid growing up in the 1990s, I watched more TV than was good for me – which included hours of Royals baseball. So maybe more so than Denny, Splitt’s voice and a combination of Dave Armstrong, Bob Davis and Fred White formed the soundtrack to my childhood summers.

People always say they feel like their favorite team’s broadcasters are like family because they feel like they spend so much time with them. Splitt was drafted in 1968 before the team ever played a game, transitioned to broadcasting immediately after his retirement in 1984 and was still on Royals TV broadcasts this season. Kansas City – myself included –spent a lot of time with Splitt.

So to the three Paul Splittorffs I know – the one with the high-leg kick, coke-bottle lenses and pinpoint accuracy from old highlights; the one whose voice is the background to several nights spent playing or doing homework in front of the TV; and the one who I was humbled to meet as I started my professional career – I will always remember you. And more importantly, I will never forget the lessons you taught me with your steady delivery, on and off the field.

Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Outdoor Baseball Returns to Twin Cities

Horn_90.jpgBy Brad Horn

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The Minnesota Twins opened a new ballpark on Monday, as Target Field played host to its first official regular-season game, and for the first time since 1981 a major league game took place outdoors in the Twin Cities. The day could not have been more perfect – from the weather, to initial reviews of the stadium, to the reactions of players and those in the stands. The new ballpark is a home run.

04-13-10-Horn_KillebrewCarew.jpgDeployed to bring home items to Cooperstown that represented the Twins’ move from the Metrodome, I was honored to be a part of the day, which was filled with so many familiar faces – all who were united in their reverence for a ballpark that has immediately joined the discussion of best ballparks anywhere in the country.

Hall of Fame Senior Vice President Bill Haase and I encountered several members of baseball’s royalty who were simply thrilled to be a part of the moment. Hall of Famer and Twins legend Rod Carew – along with his wife, Rhonda – and I talked about how the gaps would play for his sweet stroke, and how he might run all day around the bases. Former Twins outfielder Shannon Stewart offered me a contrarian view of the defensive effort that would be required of the new dimensions.

Harmon Killebrew, the “Killer,” and his wife, Nita, enjoyed the beautiful weather conditions and a new era for baseball in Minneapolis with several members of their family, as did fellow Hall of Famer and Twins great Dave Winfield, who along with his brother Steve, watched the game from just past the first base dugout.

As to the game itself, we at the Hall of Fame were fortunate to head home with the ball hit by Boston Red Sox infielder Marco Scutaro, who laced a single to center off Carl Pavano to lead off the game for the first hit at Target Field. A special tip-of-the-cap to home plate umpire Jeff Nelson and crew chief Tim Tschida for pulling the ball out of play to make sure it ended up several hundred miles east of here, in its eternal home in Cooperstown.

04-13-10-Horn_Kubel.jpgThe ball came out of play with a three-inch scuff of fresh-cut grass, a substance not found on a baseball in a major league game in Minneapolis in nearly 30 years. It was the perfect treasure for representing a return to outdoor baseball in a city whose passion for the game has, perhaps, never been more intense.

Following the game, Jason Kubel of the Twins pledged the hardwood used to hit the first home run in the history of Target Field, an eighth-inning solo shot to right field off Boston’s Scott Atchison (like me, a TCU Horned Frog, who is one of the best stories of the early season, winning a spot on an Opening Day roster for the first time at age 34 after a previous brief stint with Seattle in 2004 and 2005).

Kubel was honored by our offer to have the bat preserved forever in Cooperstown, but he was convinced that there are a few more bombs left in the bat. So, we happily agreed to take the bat once it dies… and I’m guessing it is going to be remembered as a hero, with a few more big hits in it for Kubel. This would be his second artifact donation to the Hall of Fame, previously donating his helmet from his cycle in 2009.

Before departing Target Field, I made sure to scoop up some infield dirt to commemorate the day to add to our collection in Cooperstown. Mixed in are several cuts of fresh green grass, a perfect tribute to Minneapolis’ triumphant return to outdoor baseball.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Ichiro, Phat Albert become Hall of Fame-eligible

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

Someday – 10 to 15 years from now – Monday will be known as the day it became official. The day when the clock started ticking. The day two legends truly began their journey to Cooperstown.

04-07-10-Muder_Pujols.jpgMonday was the day that Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki first became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Now, don’t go marking calendars just yet. Phat Albert and Ichiro have a lot of baseball left to play, and their Hall of Fame eligibility doesn’t officially begin until they’ve been retired for five years. At 36, Ichiro looks like he could play for at least 10 more years. And Pujols just turned 30, leaving him with a real chance to take a crack at 700 home runs and 3,000 hits in the latter part of this decade.

But barring the totally unforeseen, Ichiro and Albert are headed for Cooperstown. And on Opening Day, they cleared their primary eligibility hurdle when they appeared in a game in their 10th season of Major League Baseball.

Both Pujols and Suzuki broke into the majors in 2001, and both became instant stars. Each won their respective league’s Rookie of the Year awards that season, and it’s been virtually a non-stop success ride from there.

04-07-10-Muder_Suzuki.jpgIchiro has been named to nine straight All-Star Games, has won nine straight Gold Gloves in right field and was the AL MVP in 2001. He set the all-time single-season hit record in 2004 with 262 base hits, and owns nine straight 200-hit seasons – another big league record.

Pujols has been named to eight All-Star Games, has won three NL MVPs (including the last two in a row), owns a Gold Glove at first base and helped the Cardinals win the 2006 World Series.

But until Monday – when Pujols led his Cardinals over the Reds with two home runs and Ichiro went 1-for-4 for the Mariners in their win against the A’s, the pair had not satisfied the Hall of Fame requirement of playing at least 10 big league seasons.

It would appear to be the last hurdle on a path that will likely take both to Cooperstown.

Craig Muder is director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Frick voting under way on Facebook

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

The bubbling world of social networking is getting even busier at the Hall of Fame.

The baseball season ended a month ago and we’re over 100 days away from Opening Day, but the Hall’s Facebook site started buzzing this morning and most likely will remain at a fever pitch through the end of the month.

12-01-09-Hayes_Mathews.jpgWhy? Fan voting started for the 2010 Ford C. Frick Award, which is presented annually for excellence in baseball broadcasting. The people are speaking and they are letting us know which broadcasters deserve to be honored with legends like Mel Allen, Red Barber, Vin Scully and Jack Buck. Growing up in Kansas City, 2007 Frick winner Denny Mathews provided the soundtrack to my summers. And now fans of this great game can make their voices heard on Facebook.

From now through Dec. 31, 2009 at 5 p.m. EST, fans will choose three broadcasters to be placed on the final ballot. They and seven other finalists and will be voted on in January and the 2010 honoree will be announced in February.

In order to vote, please visit the Hall of Fame Facebook page at www.facebook.com/baseballhall. Frick voting is listed under the polls tab at the top of the page. Fans must have a Facebook account and must be logged in to cast a vote, but voting is unlimited. Vote totals appearing on the site may not be current.

Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Sept. 30, 1972: Clemente records 3,000th hit

Lawrence_90.jpgBy Thomas Lawrence

Thirty-seven years ago Wednesday, Roberto Clemente recorded a career milestone.

On Sept. 30, 1972, Clemente and the defending world champion Pirates were taking on Yogi Berra‘s Mets at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Clemente, a native of Puerto Rico, was hitting an impressive .311 heading into the season finale against New York.

9-30-09-Lawrence_Clemente.jpgBatting third against Mets starter Jon Matlack, the eventual National League Rookie of the Year, Clemente looked to push his career hit total of 2,999 into an historic category. At the time, only 10 other players were members of the 3,000-hit club, and only three — Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial — had done so in the latter half of the 20th century.

Clemente, aside from being a world-renowned humanitarian, had a chance to become the first Latin ballplayer to reach 3,000 hits.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Clemente led off against Matlack after striking out in his first at-bat. Clemente promptly roped a double to the Three Rivers outfield — the 3,000th and last regular-season hit of his exceptional career.

But it wouldn’t be his last impact on Major League Baseball. The Pirates won the National League East and were set to take on Sparky Anderson‘s Reds in the league’s championship series. Clemente only had four hits in the five-game series loss, which officially unseated the 1971 world champions, but a double and a home run were among the four hits.

9-30-09-Lawrence_ClementeHit.jpgAfter 18 magical seasons of watching Clemente control the diamond as few ever did, the world was dealt a huge blow when Clemente was killed on Dec. 31. Flying to Nicaragua to deliver goods to earthquake victims, Clemente was the victim of a plane crash that took his life at the young age of 38.

But to dwell on Clemente’s tragic passing is a disservice to the incredible life he led — one which began on Aug. 18, 1934, in Carolina, Puerto Rico. One of more than 200 Puerto Rican players to play in the big leagues, Clemente remains the commonwealth’s all-time hits leader, 276 in front of runner-up Roberto Alomar.

Clemente became the first Latin American player to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, and dozens of artifacts from Clemente’s life are housed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. In the brand-new Viva Baseball! exhibit, which celebrates the Latin influence on the game, Clemente is recognized alongside other Latin American stars.

9-30-09-Lawrence_Chart.jpgA No. 21 Pirates jersey retired on Opening Day 1973, a scrapbook of newspaper clippings covering his untimely passing and the “Roberto Clemente Memorial Album” vinyl record are all on display in Viva Baseball!.

“Roberto Clemente touched us all,” Pirates pitcher Steve Blass once said. “We’re all better players and people for having known him.”

Thomas Lawrence was the 2009 publications intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Classic Hall of Famers thrill packed crowd, promise more

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

There were literally no empty seats in the Grandstand Theater for the Hall of Fame Classic Voices of the Game. And this special Father’s Day edition delivered with the same impact the four Hall of Famers on stage had during their careers.

The sellout crowd listened for as Triple-Crown winner Bob Feller, 300-game winner Phil Niekro, 3,000-hit Club member Paul Molitor and 16-time Gold Glove Award winner Brooks Robinson reflected on their careers and talked about the game they love.

6-20-09-Hayes_VOG.jpgAll four legends and fellow Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins headline the signature event of the weekend, the Hall of Fame Classic on Father’s Day at Doubleday Field.

The theme of fathers and sons has been a principal element throughout this inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Weekend and was present during Voices of the Game. Niekro spoke vividly of his relationship. As a youngster in Ohio, he looked up to his father, who taught him the weapon that would be his bread and butter in a 24 season career.

“”If it wasn’t for the knuckleball, I probably would have ended up coal mining,” Niekro said. “I didn’t know what it was. I just had fun playing knuckle ball in the back yard. Then I was able to get Little League guys out.”

His success continued and he hitched a ride to a tryout with the Milwaukee Braves. He signed for $500. Early on, Knucksie as he became known, was unsure of his talents. When the Hall’s manager of museum programs Steve Light, who moderated the event asked Niekro how he fared against the two accomplished hitters on either side of him, Knucksie started laughing.

6-20-09-Hayes_RobinsonNiekro.jpg“I faced Brooks early on during a Spring Training game,” he recalled. “One of my 77-mph fastballs got away from me and I hit him in the head.”

Robinson countered, “Didn’t hurt a bit.”

“I thought I was going to be done the next day for hitting Brooks Robinson with a fastball,” Niekro said.

Robinson’s start wasn’t something to brag about either, though he did. He played most of the 1955 season for the York (Penn.) White Roses – a B-League team in the Piedmont League. Robinson got the call at the end of the season and got two hits in his first start.

“I called home and said, ‘This is cake. Why did I play in [the minors] all year? I should have been in the big leagues.’”

He then went 0-for-18. He recovered and became one of the cornerstones of the great Orioles teams of the 1960′s and 70′s. He appeared in four World Series, winning a pair of rings. Robinson played on a lot of great teams, but he feels one of the best didn’t achieve to the level that some of his other teams might have.

6-20-09-Hayes_Robinson.jpgIn honor of the 40th Anniversary of the Miracle Mets, Light asked Robinson about the 1969 World Series.

“I thought our ’62 team was our best,” he said. “But anything can happen in a seven-game series. We beat [Hall of Famer Tom] Seaver and lost the next four, straight.”

Baltimore was back in the Series again the next season and Robinson took the MVP honors, hitting .429 against the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati. He drove in six and hit a pair of home runs. Molitor like Robinson achieved October glory by winning the MVP Award in 1993 with the Blue Jays.

During that Fall Classic, he hit .500 with a pair of doubles, a pair of triples and a pair of homers while driving in eight against the Phillies. Molitor’s best memory of that Series however, was not one of his personal achievements.

“The ’93 Series, I was on first base when Joe Carter hit that ball over the wall,” he said. “I was thinking if it goes off the wall and I hustle, I can score and end this thing, but then it went out and it was all over anyway.”

Another highlight of Molitor’s career was reaching 3,000 hits. Pure consistency throughout his career allowed The Ignitor to retire with a career .306 batting average and 3,319 hits. In 1987, he took a run at one of the game’s longest standing records, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Molitor hit safely in 39 straight.

6-20-09-Hayes_Niekro.jpg“Whether it’s milestones or streaks, players don’t really play for those, but numbers are big in baseball,” he said. “Falling 17 games short is still a long way away from that number and my perspective changed after that streak.

“I always tell people: The way you handle success is directly related to the way you handle failure, because 3,000 hits means 7,000 outs.”

Knucksie, a member of another elite club – the 300-game winners – applauded Molitor on the achievement. He said pitchers have help in winning games, but hitters are alone. 

Niekro’s 300th came in his last start of 1985 as a Yankee. It was a special moment for him and his father, who was faltering in health. Niekro was 46 at the time and at the end of his contract.

“If I didn’t win it, I would have had to wait until the next spring and he wasn’t going to hold on that long,” he said. “So really that was a blessing for both of us.”

6-20-09-Hayes_Feller.jpgFeller missed 300 wins by 34. But he recorded a career-high 27 in 1940 followed by 25 in 1941 before leaving baseball for most of four seasons to serve in the Navy during World War II. Light noted that the Grandstand Theater is a replica of Chicago’s Comiskey Park where Feller authored one of his three no-hitters and the only Opening Day no-no in the history of the game.

“Well it was 69 years ago and I remember it quite well,” the Indians ace recalled. “It wasn’t my best no-hitter. I didn’t have great stuff that day. I only struck out eight and we won 1-0. I remember that my catcher, Rollie Hemsley, hit a triple with my rommmate on base to score the only run.”

At 90, Feller’s memory is as sharp as if he were reading a box score. Light asked him about his famous high-leg kick and he laughed.

“That high leg kick…You’ve seen the picture taken in Yankee Stadium in 1936 or ’37 with my leg kicked over my head and the photographer laying flat on the ground,” Feller said. “That is all for show. It was just symbolism. But it’s the most popular picture they’ve got of me and it sells well at card shows.”

6-20-09-Hayes_Molitor.jpgAnother Feller myth was confirmed, when Light asked the former fireballer about the motorcycle and his fastball. Feller said that, that also happened in Chicago. He was wearing a tie and a dress shirt during the exhibition, but when he wound up with the motorcycle ten feet behind him, the ball beat the bike to the target. Using a timer and the vehicles speedometer, it was figured that he threw the ball 104 mph. Later a similar event was held and Feller clocked in at 107 mph.

Apparently worried by this, Molitor interrupted the story, “Can I ask him how his arm is feeling, since I have to leadoff against him tomorrow? I’ve heard stories of him hitting the first batter, so I’m just curious.”

Once the laughter subsided, and it was confirmed that Molitor would be the first batter to face the Classic’s starting pitcher – the 90-year-old Feller – Light asked Robinson how he felt knowing that he’d be the first guy to dig in against Knucksie in the bottom of the first.

6-20-09-Hayes_MolitorFeller.jpgRecalling their Spring Training encounter, Robinson looked worried and Niekro laughed, “Put your helmet on big boy, it’s coming.”

It is coming. In less than 24 hours, the legends will take the field at Doubleday and the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic will begin with Molitor facing Feller and Robinson against Niekro. Feller’s words seemed to sum up the entire weekend.

Baseball is a game of luck and there’s a lot of good and a lot of bad,” he said, noting the rain that fell on Cooperstown for most of Saturday. “We’re going to have a lot of fun tomorrow, rain or shine.”

Trevor Hayes is editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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