Archive for the ‘baseball’ Category


Spring training got under way this week, and that can only mean one thing: the return of Ken Griffey, Jr. to the Seattle Mariners. And while Nate McMillan is busy preparing the Portland Trail Blazers for a postseason push, “Mr. Sonic” knows all about “The Kid”.

“I’m happy to see him go back to Seattle,” McMillan said of Griffey.

Junior was an instant fan favorite from his days as a 19-year-old rookie until his departure from Seattle after the 1999 season – leaving the then Sonics guard to keep tabs on Griffey and the Mariners.

“He was huge – him and (Jay) Buhner – we all came around that time, but my son (Jamelle) was a huge fan of his and he had the opportunity to go in the locker room and meet those guys. Griffey was the man – a great player. Things changed for the Mariners when he left. But they had some great runs with him and Randy (Johnson) and guys that were there in the early 90’s.”

But despite not making it to a playoff game in ’95 when the Mariners upset the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series, McMillan said he “became a huge Mariners fan”, something many will likely do with Griffey back in town after a ten year absence.

“Hopefully he has something left,” added McMillan, knowing the city of Seattle would benefit from a Mariners resurgence.

“He’s just been quiet since he left Seattle and hasn’t had that – he’s been injured since he’s been gone and I know he went back home – but hopefully he has something left to bring back. When he left, I think a lot of people wondered when he retired, would they retire his jersey as a Mariner.

“Now he gets to come back. I think that is good.”

pic via: full count pitch

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Remembering Studs Terkel

Is there a better name in writing than Studs Terkel? Is there any day sadder than yesterday when Terkel passed away at the age of 96?

If you don’t know Louis “Studs” Terkel or aren’t familiar with his work, now is the time to get to know the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winner who will be largely remembered for his amazing oral histories. That’s the Studs Terkel I’m eager to get to know more myself.

To me, Studs Terkel was – and will always be – the old sportswriter from the movie, Eight Men Out. It’s one of the best sports movies of all-time.

In the 1988 flick, Terkel portrayed Hugh Fullerton (who discovered Ring Lardner), the Chicago newspaperman who revealed the 1919 “Black Sox” Scandel and plans to throw the World Series by the Chicago White Sox against the Cincinnati Reds. Fullerton’s whistle blowing changed professional baseball forever. Something tells me Shoeless Joe Jackson would agree.

You ESPN faithful will remember Terkel for his cameos on SportsCentury highlighting the lives of Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Babe Ruth. He also contributed to Ken Burn’s documentary on Jack Johnson, Unforgiveable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.

Sports – like for so many of us – was in Terkel’s blood. But life was in his writing. Studs was all about telling a story. It was about the people. It was about getting to know someone and then telling others their tale – their joys, their hardships. That’s real writing.

That’s a story. That’s our story.

“People are hungry for stories. It’s part of our very being,” Terkel once said.

“Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too. It goes from one generation to another.”

pic via: ryanssmashinglife

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Making The Story

Long time no blog.

Since I last left off, I was busy juggling multiple projects between HOOPSWORLD, writing what seems to be a never-ending manuscript and waiting patiently for a couple pieces to hit the stands at the Northwest Examiner. Back then, Manny Ramirez was still a member of the Boston Red Sox which isn’t the case nowadays (sorry, he had to go). But that hasn’t changed my work load. That pretty much remains the same regardless of what’s going on in the world. 

It’s just made my hopes of Boston reaching the postseason a bit more challenging while facing some writing realities along the way.

This is the writing life.

HOOPSWORLD aside (because it’s pretty much business as usual cranking out NBA news and information on the regular), developing the manuscript (writing, research, interviews, writing) goes on and on. I recently conducted another interview with a former member affiliated with the 1946 West Coast Baseball Association.

Another piece of the puzzle slides into place.

I can’t get over these phone interviews with gentlemen well into their 80’s who played baseball fresh from stints in the military during World War II. Regardless if it is a fifteen, half-hour or hour conversation, time stands still. The stories are amazing. The details, although cloudy at times, remain vivid. You can tell time spent in the Negro Leagues is an adventure they hold near and dear to them to this day.

I am forever grateful for those I’ve spoken with having shared themselves with me. That goes without saying.

In other writing news, the Northwest Examiner ran my two stories this month, now available online (in PDF form, page 14 and 15) and at your local newsstands in Northwest Portland. The feature story is on Satchel Paige and his stint with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League in 1961. If you’re not familiar with Satchel – and namely his time in Triple A baseball at the age of 55 – it’s worth the read. As is the quick story that follows Paige about William “Skinny Legs” Blair, a one-time member of the Portland Rosebuds (one of the six teams in the 1946 WCBA, although his memories of his time in Portland were a bit hazy), and needless to say the guy was a real firecracker.

The two story links are listed below at the bottom of this post….enjoy.

Quick parting story: if you are interested in a free coupon for Biscuits Cafe it’s on the flip page of the Paige story. I only know this because when I went to show my wife Emily my byline and the Paige story, she got distracted by the coupon instead. She apparently couldn’t resist the idea of “buy-one-get-one-free” biscuits.

Emily ripped out the coupon, thus tearing apart my story without even glancing at it. That’s okay. At least she took my byline with her.


“Storied Negro League Hurler Wrote A Chapter For Portland”

(much thanks goes out to Dwight Jaynes for sharing his insight and memories of Paige’s days in Portland.)

“Memory Goes But ‘Skinny Legs’ Was Here”

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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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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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Hats Off

It hit me late Saturday a little after midnight while I was lounging lazily in a Houston hotel room dreaming about the Red Sox Sunday matinee with the Astros. But even then the day game was doomed.

I cringed hearing how Boston’s bullpen had just blown another lead on ESPN, thus losing an 11-10 slugfest after taking the first game in the three game interleague set. The rubber match was slated for 1:05.

I had my ticket. I didn’t have my trusty Red Sox hat.

Translation: Boston had already lost Sunday’s game thanks to me. This much I was convinced.

Let me explain.

I’ve got this dingy but wearable pseudo Trot Nixon (above) Boston Red Sox hat that I sport when I watch my beloved Red Sox play, regardless if it is in person, on TV or flashing back on TiVo as Pedro Martinez yanks poor 72-year-old Don Zimmer down by his cranium circa 2003 ACLS Game 3, Sox-Yanks. Granted, in my twenty-two years as a die-hard Sox fan, I’ve only seen them live three times. But even then I am a perfect 3-0 and was anxious to make it 4-0 as my three-man posse and I put the cap on what will forever be a memorable ballpark road trip via Kansas City and Arlington (tardy readers please see previous post).

Apparently however, through my feverishly late night pre-trip packing and ensuring my small toothpaste and lotion were in a small zip-lock bag, I failed to remember my trusty dusty Red Sox lid (still not sure where and when I purchased the cap, but it could have been around the Carter administration).

Right then and there I knew I had done in Terry Francona and the fellas.

Dead man walking.

I’ll admit I am not superstitious. But I do believe in faith: the same kind of faith that separates Dwight Evans disciples from those itching to ride shotgun on the Bo-Sox bandwagon these days. I digress. Yet I was stressed. I could picture my hat on my closet shelf all the way back in Portland. Still not sure what I was thinking not packing a baseball hat on a baseball trip, let alone a Red Sox hat knowing full well I was going to see the Red Sox.

I snagged my cell phone and called Emily- my understanding wife who would surely comfort me by offering to overnight the hat via Fed Ex at now 10:05pm Pacific Time. No such luck. She instead kept the call breif, wondering had I really woken her for such lameness.

Strike one.

Next, I shot a text to my brother Marc -one of my six older brothers – who was nestled nice and cozy around a family campfire. He’s a Chicago Cubs sympathizer; surely he would help ease my pain and drive two-and-a-half hours north to Portland, wake Emily and throw my hat in a Kinko’s drop-box labeled “Next Day Air”. I figured since the Cubs last won a World Series in 1908, he would do anything to support fellow fanaticism among two storied franchises, right?

Strike two.

He openly mocked me and suggested I buy a new hat at the game.


Einstein then instructed me to purchase a bloody sock instead.

It was the Curse of the Bambino resurrected, disguised in my own forgetfulness.

All I could do was pray.

Pray my travel mates wouldn’t hold it against me when the Sox lost that Sunday afternoon, even though I warned them repeatedly about the latenight woes of “Hat Gate”. Pray Josh Beckett could at least go seven innings, scatter eight hits, strike out four and allow two runs, resulting in a no-decision. Pray Dustin Pedroia and Manny Ramirez would hit solo homeruns. Pray the family sitting next to us wouldn’t make us stand-up every other pitch so their antsy kids could buy every souvenir and over-priced concession at Minute Made Park. Pray the Boston bullpen could actually do their job. Pray Houston’s Mark Loretta’s pinch-hit RBI single in the bottom of the 8th inning wouldn’t give the Astros a 3-2 win.

Pray the Sox wouldn’t fall out of fist place behind the upstart Tampa Bay Rays with the loss that fateful Sunday afternoon under the closed dome.

Strike three….

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Kansas City, Arlington, Houston.

Seven days, three-ball parks, four guys.

Plane, rental car, 798 mile road trip.

For any avid baseball fan or those who love the open road, this trip is for you. It’s certainly for me. The annual baseball trip – thanks to my father-in-law and his two late-teenage sons – is actually my second tour of duty in the last three years. My first year (fifth overall for the Lacter men – Barry, Alex and Austin) began in Cleveland before moving on to Pittsburgh for the 2006 MLB All-Star Game.

Classic. I was a rookie then. Am told I won’t have to carry all the bags this time around but we’ll see how that goes.

Actually looking forward to the stops in Kansas City and Houston myself: we’ll be making a much anticipated visit to the Negro League Baseball Museum in KC which I’m absolutely amped for (spoke with a former Negro League player over the phone this past weekend who raved endlessly about the joint), and the Astros play my Boston Red Sox (no bandwagon here, Sawx fan since ’86) on the last stop of the baseball strip.

Still waiting to see who’s on the hill….hoping for Dice K. But I’ll settle for Josh Beckett.

More than a week on the road also means a writing hiatus. Can’t remember the last time I had one of those. Yes I can. Last July; packed up our 600 square-foot Manhattan apartment and drove 3000 miles in a 16-foot Penske to Portland via Nebraska with a buddy in three days. It was very Jack Kerouac, minus the drugs and dysentery. But even then – basically days before I waved good-bye to New York – I covered the NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden, with the Portland Trail Blazers selecting Greg Oden with the first overall selection. Just feet away when David Stern made the announcement and Oden strolled across the stage sans the janky knee.

It was my last hoorah at the Garden. It was a good way to go out. This year though, I’ll be taking in the draft from the friendly confines of an Oklahoma City hotel room, one of the several planned stops on this incredible journey. So, no deadlines for this writer, just a phone call or two to wish Blazers General Manager Kevin Pritchard good luck and to Tommy Beer who will be covering the event for HOOPSWORLD on Thursday at MSG. Still have to get the scoop.

As for Portland and the draft?

Expect the Blazers to be busy as usual. I will say this about Pritchard: if thirty NBA GM’s sat around a table playing a couple hands of highstakes poker, I’d bank on KP to stack chips every time out. Phil Hellmuth has nothing on him. The Portland roster I know today will not be the same roster that welcomes me back in a week. Call it a hunch.

As for me?

It’s time to re-charge. Sure, I’ll journal and maybe work on some edits for the manuscript – 45 pages and counting – but the Dell Inspiron-E1405 is not making the trek. I’m leaving the beat behind. But you know I’ll be catching up on some reading. Time to brush some dust off my stack of dust jackets.

I will see you in a week with some stories….and hopefully a foul ball.


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