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Archive for July, 2008

The pieces of this puzzle keep coming together….

Five years ago I started researching the 1946 West Coast Baseball Association purely off a newspaper clipping I found while doing a separate summer school project at Portland State University right before graduation. Being an ardent baseball fan, especially the history of the game, I was taken back by the thought there was actually a Negro league team in Portland, let alone the West Coast.

The more I searched, the less I found.

At the time, I was living in Northwest Portland, one block from the old Vaughn Street Ballpark where the WCBA’s Portland entry – the Rosebuds – played against WCBA teams (the Seattle Steelheads, San Francisco Sea Lions, Oakland Larks, Los Angeles White Sox and San Diego Tigers) and other barnstorming clubs. Many late nights I found myself walking past the old ballpark site that opened in 1901 before being torn down in 1956. All that remains now is a plaque noting the ballparks history, minus the Rosebuds of course. Standing on that corner, it was hard to imagine the Rosebuds taking the field in ‘46 with all the modern industrial buildings around today, but I did.

I picture it still.

That’s why I decided to do the book – that coupled with constantly being told there is nothing there to research or a story to tell.

There is a story to tell. It’s just digging and digging and digging to get to the heart of it.

After continual research and countless hours reading microfilm, starting to write a manuscript and conducting interviews with former players and relatives of former players is well underway. What started in 2003, continued with research while living in New York City and day trips to a research library in Harlem. There I found the black owned newspapers of that era. They have been priceless. So are the interviews – with William “Skinny Legs” Blair (Portland Rosebud), Harold “Beebop” Gordon (San Francisco Sea Lions….and pictured above) and the former wife of Mel Reid (Oakland Larks) – Betty Reid Soskin (truly an amazing woman).

All are well into their 80’s, but they tell Negro league tales as if they happened yesterday. That’s the thing. The story is about baseball, but it’s more about these ordinary men with extraordinary aspirations.

The memories will surely help fill in the details and gaps of the featured story I wrote on the WCBA two months ago for the Northwest Examiner.

And now back in Portland, the hunt for the history of a short-lived six-team West Coast Negro league – post World War II – grows with each writing session and former player interview.

More of both to come…..

Chasing history has never felt so good.

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Well Said….

 

 

“If you’re a reporter, the easiest thing in the world is to get a story. The hardest thing is to verify. The old sins were about getting something wrong, that was a cardinal sin. The new sin is to be boring.” – David Halberstam

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I have a confession to make.

I’m behind my own personal writing gun and feeling a bit overwhelmed with an itchy trigger finger.

When I first started this here blog, my intention was to feature links to my weekly work while starting to detail the process of starting to write a book (or manuscript I should say). I called it my “standing resume”, always hoping to maybe draw the eye of a future employer. But a funny thing happened on the way to blogville.

It became blog city…..the busyness, the noise, the hustle and bustle.

So since I’m a country boy at heart – although I do love the city – being born and raised in Nebraska by way of Corvallis, Oregon – Beemer, Nebraska – Portland, Oregon – New York City – and now back to Portland,  it’s time I returned to my rural roots.

Time to get back by taking a step back.

Having said that, it was a busy week at HOOPSWORLD and also on the baseball/research/writing front. With NBA summer league in full-swing, deadlines have been crazy. The rest of my week was filled with a story on Blazers General Manager Kevin Pritchard who shared his insights on summer league, and with no surprise Pritchard finds the heart of this youngfella training period in Las Vegas is as much about the people as the product on the floor. Having come to know Kevin over the past three years those words weren’t a shocker. That’s Kevin. He’s people first.

But while covering basketball has smothered my writing time of late, my heart continues to drift to baseball. My featured story on Satchel Paige’s stint with the 1961 Portland Beavers at the age of 55, which was to run in the Northwest Examiner (along with a sidebar on William “Skinnylegs” Blair, who barnstormed in the Negro leagues back in the mid-to-late ‘40’s) this month got pushed back to next month. Guess you could call it a brushback pitch. It happens. I’ve worn an editors hat before. So as I wait to see that story/stories in print, I’m plugging back into my project on the 1946 West Coast Baseball Association.

Having conducted three interviews – two with former players who are both in their late 80’s, and one with the wife of a former player who has a heart of gold and priceless memories to share from that era – and edited while adding some additional research materials along the way, the manuscript has reached 23,000 words and sits at 47 pages. It’s far from over. But that’s a good chunk.

I imagine that number is more than double once in book print form.

The beat goes on.

The trick is balancing family life, taking care of my little one, fulfilling my responsibilities to HOOPSWORLD, while chasing the dream of writing this book, all in one day. It can be done. I’ve been doing it. Aside from my faith and family, publishing this book – telling the story of these incredible men and Negro league baseball players at the time Jackie Robison broke the color barrier – is my everything right now.

I have to remind myself of that when I get overwhelmed by life and writing.

This is bigger than me.

Consider this my reminder.

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Show Me Something

Not bad, not bad at all.

I was a bit skeptical as the Portland Trail Blazers headed into their first summer league game in Las Vegas on Monday night before beating the Washington Wizards, and wondering exactly what would come of this make-shift squad. For their first game, they didn’t look horrible considering the countless turnovers and how each player gets 10 fouls.

Gotta love summer league.

I was actually anxious to see how 6-8 French forward Nicolas Batum looked (note he’s being guarded by new Blazers teammate Jerryd Bayless in prior national competition), that was until I actually watched him play. After his first couple trips down the court -jacking up a few shots and an air-ball along the way – all I could think about was a saying my dad used to throw around from back in the day.

Whenever my dad and I watched sports together – especially baseball or basketball – he would quickly pass judgment on a guy who was being hyped up to be a stud but instead was unimpressive. It was like clockwork if a guy botched an open jumper of booted a routine ground ball.

“This guy doesn’t show me anything,” my dad always said.

Batum earned that saying last night.

Okay so it is summer league. I feel bad for crucifying the kid a bit. In Vegas, it’s all about getting your shots and I get that. If you are a big man in summer league, good luck in getting noticed. It’s basically a chance for guards to go for theirs. And as much as Batum tried, he just couldn’t make it happen but you could tell the kid was straight jittery.

He finished with 3 points.

Fellow rookie Jerryd Bayless by the way…..that kid made me a believer, and now I’m not even so sure Blazers back-up point Sergio Rodriguez’s future in Portland is that secure (if it ever really was). I give Sergio one more year in Portland for the “Rudy Factor” alone (read: Sergio’s food friend and fellow Spaniard is now a member of the Blazers, thus the organization entrusting Sergio to help ease Rudy’s transition. Or at least that is my theory). But if Sergio “doesn’t show me anything”, Bayless could easily take his place.

Tick, tick, tick…..

Besides the Bayless piece that ran on HOOPSWORLD today, also check out the story on Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger – also a Tuesday feature -who is working his tail off this summer fixing to take over the number one spot for the departed Jermaine O’Neal.

Now Granger shows me something…..

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I’ve said it before and I will say it again: there is no offseason in the NBA.

That goes for players, coaches, scouts, front office execs and yes….even for a writer.

NBA summer league in Las Vegas heads into its second full week of play and while I opted to sit this one out (figured with Emily in New York on business, Piper running pick-and-rolls in Vegas may be a bit much) I’m keeping tabs on the latest from summer league – thanks to an editor who hit me up with an early Monday morning deadline on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

That’s the way it goes. No rest for the weary.

And besides, knocking out a story on the New Orleans Hornets third-year center/forward Hilton Armstrong is nothing compared to keeping a 19-month little girl entertained with temps reaching near 100 degrees at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Figured if Hilton could punch the clock on a hot sultry Sunday in Vegas, I could do the same here in Portland.

Gotta hand in to those Hornets man. Seriously. Between playing their hearts out for the people of New Orleans, Chris Paul chasing MVP honors, and head coach Byron Scott earning his Coach of the Year award, that squad was truly the feel good story of the NBA last year. And you can’t forget Tyson Chandler either – always an easy and genuine interview – and one of those guys who doesn’t get enough love in my opinion when you talk about the “next generation”.

Anyone who gets two of their teeth knocked out – actually a chipped tooth and a lost crown – after taking an elbow in a game last year has my respect.

Ouch.

And Tyson….sorry James Jones had to pop that jumper over you a few posts back. I hope this pic completes the apology.

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Well Said….

“When I began playing the game, baseball was about as gentlemanly as a kick in the crotch.” – Ty Cobb

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Back in 2007 after the Cleveland Cavaliers took out the New Jersey Nets in the second round of the NBA playoffs, LeBron James strolled out of his postgame press conference in East Rutherford looking like a man who could carry the Cavs all the way to the NBA Finals.

Standing in the back of the press room as James – doing his best smooth operator impersonation complete with shades – exited stage right I remember thinking, there goes the man. There goes the man.

But now I can’t help but think, when will the Cavs make a move this offseason to get the man some help?

Eleven days into NBA free agency – two days if you actually include the time in which deals could be finalized – and a number of teams continue to sit on their hands. Cleveland is one of those teams.

That was my angle today at HOOPSWORLD where I selected six teams who have yet to improve their roster so far this summer by swooping up a free agent: Washington, Atlanta, Indiana, Cleveland, Phoenix and Portland are the usual suspects within the column. Four of those teams made the postseason, which only lends to my argument that those clubs in particular are either playing their cards close to their vest or they’ve already folded.

Now these days I’m not even sure if the Wizards and Hawks return to the playoffs next season. The Pacers are clearly rebuilding. The Suns – namely owner Robert Sarver and team president and general manager Steve Kerr – have obviously lost their minds.  And the Blazers, well they opted to gain ground through the draft and apparently will avoid the open market, or so it appears.

As for Cleveland….what are they doing exactly?

Days after they were bounced by the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this past season, Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert spoke about what their next move would be this summer.

“We’re going to work this summer to get better and better and we’ll look at everything. We’re going to let a little time go by then re-group and look at everything objectively, try and get better and get to where we ultimately need to be,” Gilbert said on a conference call in late May.

Now three months later and they are frozen like a Heisman trophy. It doesn’t take that long to realize alterations still need to be made in Cleveland.

As I wondered that May day on HOOPSWORLD about if and when the Cavs would acquire another scorer to play off James, Gilbert basically took it a step further saying he couldn’t comment on the whole “sidekick” scenario.

Interesting. James doesn’t need a sidekick. He just needs be put at ease knowing the front office is putting in work this summer. I haven’t seen that at this point. Neither has James.

Instead of bettering their situation (although they are heavily chasing James Posey still) in Cleveland – thus showing the face of the franchise they are serious about contending and locking him up in 2010 – they’ve seemingly hung LeBron out to dry.

It’s hard being the man.

 

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