Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Miracle - But The Not Miracle Mets

At the Thursday night dinner Steve Liddle was openly pessimistic about our chances of being able to play on Friday morning.  We had had more than 4.5 inches of rain in less than 48 hours and it was just stopping.  Steve said, "Frankly, I think it will take a miracle for the fields to be good enough for us to play."

It's a miracle! The grounds crew was working on our fields by 7am - raking, pouring sand and absorbent on the dirt, and removing tarps from the pitchers' mounds and batting boxes.  They declared the fields ready for play!  First pitch at 9:15am!

While the field was miraculously ready, Team A - Rick Knapp didn't have a miracle in them.  The 1969 Miracle Mets who in their first 8 seasons in the major leagues never finished higher than 9th place went on to win the World Series in their 9th year of existence.  No such miracle finish for Team Knappy, however.  We could not break our streak and finished the week on a losing note.

On Connie Mack Field, we lost by a score of 7 to 2 to the team managed by Stan Cliburn.  We were the home team.  I started and pitched two innings (after having pitched just 3 innings so far in the week.)  I felt good about how I pitched - with six outs to the infield - but a couple of well hit balls and a walk led to two runs in the first inning. We tied the score at 2 in the bottom of the first.  Pete Willis led off with a single, I hit a double and John Schneider hit a single to drive both Pete and me in.                                   
"Strategery" with my catcher John Schneider
So at the end of one inning the score was tied at 2 each.  The problem for Team Knappy is that we didn't score again in the game and Team Cliburn scored 5 more runs.
A double to left field
All our pitchers were from teams I play with during the season in DC -- Gib and Pete Willis from my weekend team followed me on the mound.  Pete pitching for the first time ever - and throwing a shut out inning!  Chris Clark, who has managed my weeknight team, closed with a scoreless inning.  I ended with 1 for 3 at bat but hit the ball pretty hard each time.  I felt better with my swing after my hitting session with Victor Rodriguez and some pre-game time in the batting cage with Rick Knapp.  Team Cliburn was probably the best of the teams we faced all week.  They had strong pitching and hitting from Jonathan Taylor (who threw 3 shutout innings and at bat was 3 for 3 and got hit by a pitch.)  Evan Katz, Scott Collentro and Simon Kumkumian and the rest of their squad played an efficient and clean game to beat us.  At a couple points in the game Chris Clark from our team and Jonathan Taylor (JT) - probably the two best overall players in the camp - each got a chance to pitch to the other.  They both acquitted themselves well on the mound and at bat.

For the week, the teams I played on had a record of 1 win and 5 losses.  I pitched a total of only 5 innings and felt pretty good with how I threw - but would have liked to pitch more.  I was 4 for 12 at bat, with two doubles, and got hit by a pitch, scored three times, and drove in three runs.  My first team with Darrin Garner won the first game on Monday and lost the afternoon game by a close score - with 11 players.  Tuesday morning we lost the first game close and the next two games by big margins - and ended the day with 17 players on the team.  Wednesday five of us were assigned to Team Knappy and we played with 6 new teammates.  We didn't get to play a full game together until Friday morning, when we played pretty well but still lost.  Although the week was very disjointed and it was difficult to get into a rhythm, it also gave us a chance to play with and get to know more of the campers.

Just some of the Ponce players and coaches in Fort Myers - photo collection by Chris Clark

Some extra notes:  The big white spot on the Thursday blog should be a 20 second video of Victor Rodriguez showing me a batting drill to keep my weight back on my swing.  The video loaded when I wrote the blog, worked when I previewed the blog, but for some reason has not loaded into the published post.  I will keep trying to get it to work.  I have the video (courtesy of Chris Clark) on email, which I could forward to you if you would like to see it (and if you are skeptical of my ability to figure out the technology to get it to work in the post!)

Arnie Beyeler, who will be managing the AAA New Orleans Zephyrs for the Miami Marlins this year, still keeps in touch with players he managed when he was at Portland and Pawtucket in the Red Sox system.  He mentioned specifically Josh Reddick, who is now with the Oakland A's, and said he spoke earlier in the week with Ryan Kalish - who has had a series of injuries that have kept him from playing for nearly two years.  Arnie started in the Sox system with Portland the same year Gabe Kapler started as a minor league manager with the Sox A team in Greenville, South Carolina.  Arnie keeps in frequent contact with Gabe, who is now Director of Player Development for the Dodgers and was a finalist for the manager's job with the Dodgers, which went to another Red Sox favorite, Dave Roberts.

Getting batting tips
Since we got to Fort Myers early to miss the snow storm in DC, Chris Clark and I went to the Mike Greenwell"s Bat-a-Ball and Family Fun Park in Cape Coral on Saturday for some practice in the batting cages.  Mike Greenwell - The Gator -- is from Fort Myers and played left field for the Red Sox for 11 years.  After BP, Chris cleaned my clock in an intense game of miniature golf.

One of the campers this year came all the way from England!  Shane MacKean is an English ball player who learned about the Ponce De Leon camp when he previously went to the Baltimore Orioles Fantasy camp.  He has relatives in Baltimore, so he combined a trip to play baseball with Ponce in Florida with a trip to Baltimore to visit family.

There are over 600 players who play in Ponce over the year -- 75 registered for the camp and 66 finally made it to Fort Myers for the week.  7 of the campers (11%) and 10 of those who registered (13%) play on my weekend or weeknight teams back home.   I don't know what that means - except we create a buzz about the Ponce spring training when we play back home to try to recruit more players for Spring Training.  It was disappointing that Smitty and Rick from my weeknight team and Paul from my weekend team couldn't get out of DC because of the storm - but I know no one was more disappointed than them.  They had all been looking forward to the camp since signing up in the fall.

I normally play about 50 Ponce games a year -- 9 in Florida in January - and then Spring and Fall weekend seasons in the over 48 league; Spring and Fall weeknight seasons in the mixed 30's and 48's league; and the Summer weekend league.  Last year for a variety of reasons -- travel, injury, visits with family and friends, etc. -- I only played about 35 games, the fewest games I have played since I started playing Ponce in 2005.  While we missed 3 games to weather this past week, I know that the Ponce Spring Training will help me prepare for a full slate of games starting in April.

With that I hear that old refrain - "wait until next year" - and the promise of another trip to Fort Myers.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Picture Perfect Day - But No Games

No games today, so the post will be pictures and stories - and a few baseball lessons.  (Tip: I believe if you click on a photo in the blog it will be enlarged for easier viewing.)

Rain kept coming down in Fort Myers throughout last night and today - washing out any chance of playing today.  (The normal rainfall for the month in this area is 1.94" and through Wednesday of this month the total has been 12.54" with an addition 1 to 2 inches falling on Thursday.  Some may think there is no global warming but it sure feels like there is global wetting - at least in Fort Myers this week.)

I know weather reports in a blog are boring and even more boring than sitting out a rain delay.  I will try to keep today's post about baseball - and the baseball activity Ponce campers did in the down time.

In the morning, Arnie Beyeler and Victor Rodriguez stationed themselves at the covered batting cages and gave individual instruction and BP to anyone who wanted a session.  It is always a thrill to realize you are getting world class instruction from coaches who work all season with the likes of David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia and other major league players.

Victor Rodriguez with batting tips
Victor was doing soft flips so batters could work on proper hitting technique and form.  One of my (many?) flaws when I hit is that I move forward too early and don't keep my weight back - ending up losing power by swinging too early and being "long" or lunging at the ball.  Victor said that most amateur batters - and many professionals - have the same tendency and gave me a drill to keep my weight back and hands waiting for the ball to come in deeper to the plate before swinging.

Vic said that Xander Bogaerts, the outstanding young Red Sox shortstop, got into the same habit of moving too soon toward the end of his first full year in the majors. Victor gave him the same drill he was showing me - to step back instead of forward to keep the weight on the back.  On the first day Bogaerts worked on the drill he was so successful and liked it so much, he did the "drill" in a game at Yankee Stadium - and hit a home run to center field his first at bat, went 4 for 5, and had 5 rbi's!  So look for some heavy lumber from me after (or if?) I perfect this drill.

Arnie Beyeler pitching BP to Chris Clark
In the next cage, Arnie was throwing BP so players could work on some of the advice that Victor had given them.  Arnie would pinpoint his pitches -- high, low, inside, outside -- and check us to make sure we were developing the new, good habits we needed to learn -- talking us through what we did right or wrong.  Get a good pitch to hit.  Only swing at your pitch.  Don't swing at a tough pitch you have a hard time handling, unless you have two strikes on you.  Don't chase pitches outside the strike zone. 

Steve Liddle was telling us that he thought he had a terrific group of coaches - most of whom have been at the camp for more than 10 years.  He said, "It does takes an incredible coach to teach you guys something"

Victor talking batting with Arnie pitching BP in the adjacent cage.
A typical Ponce day of play: 8am - report to clubhouse,get dressed, get into the trainers' room if necessary, and get ready; 9am - announcements on the field; 9:15 to 9:30am - stretching and calisthenics led by the trainers; 9:30 to 10:30am - skills instruction by position or onfield batting practice with your team; 10:30am to 12:30pm - first six inning game; 12:30 to 1:30pm - lunch in the clubhouse; 1:45 to 2:30 - skills instruction for those who had batting practice in the morning and onfield batting practice for the teams that did not have BP in the morning; 2:30 to 4:30pm - afternoon six inning game; 4:30 to 5:30p - postmortems, soda or beer in the clubhouse and by now a necessary trip to the trainers' room.  And report for more of the same the next day. 

A typical day this week:  try to get to Florida, report to the clubhouse to find out the weather report, try to get a game started (with no BP or skills instruction!), sit out the rain.  And report for more of the same the next day.  I know I sound bitter - but the camaraderie of the fellow campers and the obvious effort Steve Liddle, the coaches, and Ponce are making to maximize our time here helps and is much appreciated.

Instead of a skills session this afternoon in the rain, Steve gathered us in the stadium grandstand and conducted a skull session for us with the coaches - a baseball seminar.
Or flagging an airplane into the gate!  (photo strip by Chris Clark)

Some tips from the seminar:  1)  Most of us take a "false step" on the basepaths or in the field - moving the back leg first, instead of turning the hips and making the first step with the lead foot.  Especially for a player in their 50's or 60's - "you aren't going to get faster, you have lost your 'closing speed' so you need to learn how to be more efficient."  2) You can get better but that means you have to get smarter - you can't be stubborn and do things the same way as you lose your athleticism.  You have to adjust and learn new things.  Find a drill that helps and work on that drill until it is natural and you don't need to think about it.  You need to develop an approach that feels right and keeps you in balance - at the plate or on the mound.  3) A solid and steady lower half of the body is critical whether you are at bat or pitching.  "If you have a two story house and the second story is solid but the first story has termites, you need to call the Orkin man!"  Make sure your lower half is solid.  4)  At bat, the head never moves - it should not turn or go forward.  If you are opening up your front shoulder your head will move.  5)  At bat, "hands above the ball and the barrel above the hands."  6)  Get into a position of strength,  be ready to hit, and get a good pitch to hit.  As the ball is coming don't be, "wait, wait, wait, swing" - or you may chase a bad pitch.  Instead, be, "swing, swing, swing, and wait, if its a ball."

 Tonight was the Awards Dinner - but since there were so few games there were fewer awards.  Hard to give an MVP or announce a championship game when we played only 4 games and went from 4 teams to 6 in the week.  The most important award, however, is the "spirit of Ponce" award given to a player on each team who best represented the meaning and culture of Ponce De Leon baseball during the week.  Teammates of mine from my weekend team back home -- 48+ Cornwell - were winners on two of the six teams.  For Rick Knapp's team the award went to co-winners Peter and Gib Willis who struggled to get to camp from the snow in DC and rushed straight from the airport to the park on Wednesday afternoon to get into the game.  George Bedford, a Ponce legend and virtual captain of Team Cornwell and a coach of a 30+ team, won the award for Stu Cliburn's team.   This is George's 11th year at Ponce camp, but the first time he has been here with his son, George III (not to be confused with King George III of Great Britain who lost the American colonies.)

 Bill Lee, former pitcher for the Red Sox, is often at Ponce camp and made a brief appearance yesterday.  Wednesday was going to be "wood bat day" at Ponce, when every player would bat with a wood bat instead of the usual metal bat.  Bill Lee is part owner of a wood bat company and still plays a lot of baseball tournaments that feature wood bats. 
Bill Lee touting the value of wood bats.
It has been a difficult week for people back home in the snow in DC, for the people who had difficult trips to Florida to try to get the play, and for all of us to be frustrated from our goal of a week of playing baseball.  Nonetheless, it is an experience you go through with friends and teammates.  And in a week like this, every camper - whether on your team or not - feels like a teammate, sharing the same baseball experience.

The camp photographer -- Greg Wagner -- took a photo of all the campers on Tuesday to send back to Bob Duff, the owner of Ponce, who is not here this week while he deals with some health issues.  Greg graciously sent me the picture to share on the blog - both to give you a sense of who is here and also to send best wishes to Bob from all his Ponce teammates.  (Photos of Ponce week can be seen and ordered at  I got a wonderful poster several years ago that Greg made for me at a previous camp - you can see it in the thumbnail size at "about me" on the side of this  blog.)

Photo by Greg Wagner -

Steve announced tonight that he will be at the park at 7:30am to, check the fields, talk to the grounds crew and the county, and to determine if we can play our final game of the the week tomorrow morning.  With the additional 1.5" of rain we got today the prospects of playing are slim.  But hope springs eternal.  I leave for the airport right after the scheduled end of the game at noon - so my final blog post for the year will be on Saturday.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head...

....and on the field.  So after 4 innings, the first game was called on account of rain and the afternoon game was also cancelled.  Rain -- with persistent showers and thunderstorms -- is expected to last into Thursday morning.  We will report to Terry Park tomorrow by 11am - and if the rain has stopped and the fields have drained - we will try to get in an afternoon doubleheader.  But for today, the saddest sight when you want to play baseball is the rain filled view out of your hotel window at 1pm!  (I know, its not three feet of snow, so I really can't complain!)

With 65 players now in camp (out of 75 who had registered) Ponce created two new teams of 10-11
Just waiting for players!
players each to give each player more playing time.  (Playing yesterday's last six inning game with 17 players meant that many players got only one at bat and only played in the field every other inning.  I was traded to a new team managed by Rick Knapp (Darrin Garner said he did get a bag of baseballs in the trade - they exacted a high price for me.)  Teammates from the Garner team - Chris Clark, Stuart Cohen, Phil Cohen, Pete Shimm and Pete Willis -- were included in the trade, and we are now joined by new teammates from other teams - Bill Arnold, Bob Broderick, John Schneider, Stan Schwartz and Gib Willis.  Rick Knapp is the minor league pitching coordinator for the Los Angeles Dodgers -- he is a former pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers and longtime minor league pitching coordinator for the Minnesota Twins.

We tried to get games in early this morning and we started a game (on Roberto Clemente Field, Jackie) against the new team managed by Arnie Beyeler.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss - a continuation of the losing streak seemed imminent as we were behind by a score of 6-2 when the game was called.  Although the statistics and result are unofficial since we didn't get a full game in, our team only had 2 hits - both by Chris Clark.  I was 0 for 1 at the plate, and struck out in the worst way by taking a called third strike (a nice low and inside breaking ball that I think got the corner of the plate even though the pitcher told me later he thought it was inside.  It was a good pitch - don't ever leave the plate with your bat on your shoulder.)  Here was a better effort captured by Chris Clark during one of our games yesterday.

So it was non-baseball activity for the rest of the day.  Jamie Bell, a teammate from my weeknight team, and Paul Basken, with whom I was a teammate here two years ago, rented a house for the week and invited us over for dinner - so long as Chris Clark promised to cook a repeat of the Italian dinner feast that Chris made for us several years ago! So Chris spent the afternoon shopping, preparing, and cooking.  His hard work paid off in a terrific spaghetti and meatball dinner preceded by bruschetta and complemented with a nice red wine.  And a lot of baseball and Ponce talk.

A couple of notes:  Darrin Garner who was in the Seattle Mariners system as a coach for about 20 years is a new minor league coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks working at their extended spring training facility in Phoenix and then managing the rookie short-season team for the Diamondbacks.  I have had him as a coach several years at Ponce and he does a great job of constantly giving tips or pointing out ways to improve your game.  I hope to connect him with my nephew Ben and his son Evan (the baseball nut!) so they can visit Darrin at the Diamondbacks facility in Phoenix where they live.  I have never played for Rick Knapp before but have enjoyed his pitching skills lessons, so look forward to playing for him (if we get anymore games in.)

Victor Rodriguez expressed a lot of confidence in the ability of Jackie Bradley, the outstanding young Red Sox fielding outfielder, to hit consistently in the major leagues - pointing to the terrific streak he had at the plate in stretches last year and the 10 home runs he hit in limited at bats.

This year I am trying to play baseball without wearing eyeglasses for the first time since I played in the South Braintree Little League 60 years ago.  My distance vision has improved - so I am giving it a try.  So far, I seem to see the ball fine.  The only difficulty is seeing some of the catcher's signals when I am pitching.

Today's blast from the past is the Brown University Freshman baseball team from 1965 - I played with a number of these teammates through four years at Brown.  One of them - Flint Taylor, smack dab in the middle of the photo, is a lifelong Red Sox fan, preeminent civil rights attorney in Chicago, and the person who came up with the crazy idea that I do a blog of my Ponce experiences.  While I don't regularly see these folks - other than Flint - I did have dinner (and laughs) several years with John Hefferon, the best pitcher at Brown in my years there.  Some of the others I only keep up with on the grapevine.  So hey - Buzz, Jesse, Tom, Francisco de Wardo, Heff, Bob, Larry, Mike, Eche, and my other teammates from the class of 1968 - it was great playing with you.  (I'm in the front row with the Barry Goldwater glasses - it was 1965 afterall!)

As I post this, the rain is still coming down with a gloomy forecast for tomorrow.  Hopefully we will get at least one game in.  The fields at Terry Park drain terrifically and the grounds crew do an impressive job in preparing the fields.  However, they have to deal with up to 3 inches of water from the last 36 hours, after about 3 inches of rain that fell at the end of last week.  The awards dinner is also scheduled for Thursday night.   Of course, most of us would rather play than have a dinner, but we may have not an option.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Racing the Rain - the Sequel

Zach and Drew Nielsen with Victor Rodriguez

I am going to start today's report with something fun because the report on today's games is not very uplifting.  Victor Rodriguez - Red Sox batting coach and a longtime Ponce coach - is a very nice man, who goes out of his way to accommodate people.  This summer he was part of the Red Sox' Fan Appreciation Day, following a Sox game attended by by niece Sherry and her husband Glenn -- and their two boys Zach and Andrew.  My brother Bill - Sherry's dad - is an usher at Fenway and made sure the boys got on the field for fan appreciation activities - where the fans could meet some of the players and coaches.  Here is a  picture of Zach and Drew with Victor at Fenway -- just one way baseball people help make kids lifelong fans of the Red Sox.

Now to Ponce.  On beautiful baseball days, the legendary Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks would step on the field and say, "Let's play two."  Well, it is the prospect of very bad weather for Wednesday and Thursday (up to three inches now predicted) that led the Ponce camp directors to say, "Let's play three."  It was a beautiful Florida day, so the tripleheader was designed for us to get in as much game action as possible in case Wednesday and Thursday are washouts.  Two years ago, Thursday and Friday were rained out - the first full day rainouts in the camp's then 15-year history.  This year threatens to raise more havoc with the usual schedule.  Typically at Ponce camp team batting practice and skills instruction (for pitchers, catchers, infielders, etc.) are interspersed throughout the day with the two six inning games we normally play.  Yesterday and today, instead, have been focused on using all the time we have - with the players who are here and arriving late - to get in games. 

That's a nice thought, but for Darrin Garner's Team C (the good guys!) the only thing worse than losing both ends of a doubleheader is losing both ends and the middle of a tripleheader.  We lost all three games today - and on top of our loss in the second game yesterday - are on a four game losing streak.  When you have only played five games, that's not an impressive record. In my first three years at Ponce camp my team came in last each year.  Since then my teams have won the championship each year, except for one second place finish and another last place finish.  So in 9 previous years - 4 championships and four cellar dwellers.  Feast or famine -sort of like the recent records for the Red Sox (a World Series championship in 2013 followed by two last place finishes!)  So far this camp, Team C (Garner) looks more like famine than feast.

In the first game today we lost a close game to the team managed by Arnie Beyeler.  We got ahead early and then fell behind 7 to 3.  We rallied for 3 runs in the fifth inning to close to within one run, but couldn't push across the winning or tying run in the bottom of the sixth and final inning - losing 7-6.   I pitched one inning - the fifth - to help kept the game close giving up no runs with one strike out and one walk.  At bat I was 2 for 2 with an rbi.

In the second game we played against Stu Cliburn's team - who we beat in the first game on Monday.  A very different result today, we lost 12-2.  We stopped hitting, fielding was sloppy and pitching was inconsistent - not a good formula for success.  We fell behind early and never threatened.  I was 0-2 at bat with an rbi.  As the day went on, more players arrived and our roster expanded.  We started on Monday with 11 players and finished today with 17 on the team.  To give everyone a chance to play, constant changes were made at fielding positions.  With a continuous batting order - 17 in the batting order at the end - it was a long time between at bats, particularly when the team is not hitting or getting walks so not turning over the lineup.  We also have used 7 pitchers, so innings have been pretty dispersed.  (With the new players arriving, Ponce is likely to create two more teams tomorrow so there will be 10 or 11 per team.)

In the third game, against the team managed by Victor Rodriguez, we did keep it close early - behind by a score of 3-2 after 3 innings, but couldn't muster any offense and lost by a final score of 8-2.  With the full lineup, I - along with several other players - only got one at bat and I went 0 for 1.  It was a long day - 18 innings with only 5 at bats - made longer by three not pretty losses.  With the exception of Steve Abbuhl and Chris Clark, no one is hitting consistently.

Arnie Beyeler, Chris, Nick, and Jay Hedlund
A couple of random notes:  In addition to Victor, all the coaches are approachable and accommodating - talking about baseball but also bonding with the players over the years.  All of the coaches have been at the camp for ten years or more - and connect with the returning players at the camp and often during the year.  Chris Clark and I had dinner with Arnie Beyeler on Sunday night after the Patriots game.  Arnie (as well as Victor) has several times provided passes for me and family or friends to get on the field for batting practice in Baltimore or Oakland when we have been there for Red Sox games.  In 2012, when Arnie was managing the Pawtucket Red Sox, he gave Elizabeth and me and my nephew Billy and his wife Rachel and their sons Nicholas and Christopher a tour of the PawSox clubhouse and locker room.

 The fields at Terry Park are named after important baseball people who have been involved at the complex.  This is for Jackie:

We have new trainers this year - Rhonda (from Norwood, MA originally) and Julie (from Montpelier, VT) and both natural born Red Sox fans.  Lead trainer Larry Bennese - who is a trainer in the Minnesota Twins system and has been at Ponce camp for more than 10 years -- had a conflict this year and asked his frequent colleague Rhonda to fill in.
Our Trainer, Rhonda
Rhonda and Julie have applied Atomic Balm regularly to help me with a new tightness in my neck and back - and help other players with pulled hamstrings, bruised hands, blisters and assorted other ailments.  It is important to have trainers for a camp whose participants are - on average - 60 years old (with more than a handful in their 70's)  but that doesn't keep the pups in their 30's and 40's out of the trainers' room.  Medical news overheard: "my new chemo therapy is working great"; "my doctor says its finally time for my back surgery and to stop playing baseball but I think I can put that off"; "my nitroglycerin pills are in this bag"; "well the ball went off this finger, but I don't think its broken - or at least I hope not."  Its a good thing we have trainers on hand!

Finally, this summer several teammates from the Braintree (MA) High School Bay State League 1964 baseball champions got together at our old field, French's Common, to reconnect and reminisce about days gone by.  Again friends and teammates who shared the same baseball experience - and who, whether we are together or alone - smile when we think of coach Lefty O'Connell, beating Joe Coleman and Natick and Richie Hebner and Norwood - or even losing in the state semi-finals to Somerville.  Here is the yearbook picture of those teammates.

And, 51 years later, here are lifelong (although too often out of touch) friends and teammates: Dave Scolamiero, star shortstop and captain of the league championship basketball team; Dwight Chandler, terrific catcher and outfielder and football captain and all-scholastic running back; and Jay Hedlund, baseball captain.
In my mind, whether they are new or old, teammates and friends are the most important things we get from playing sports.

Rain is predicted for tomorrow - we hope to get in two games in the morning, but Mother Nature, who seems to be in quite a state lately, needs to cooperate.

Monday, January 25, 2016


Banners fly in Terry Park with names of Members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who have played there.  Today the Ponce De Leon players also took to the fields, although you can be sure that none of our names will make it onto those banners.

Mother Nature is still in charge with many players delayed getting to Florida.  Normally we would have 6 teams, but with the shortage of players so far we have started the week with only 4 teams.  The delayed arrivals also meant we started today at 1:30 - about 4.5 hours later than normal for the first day of games.  We started with batting practice with our team on one of the fields and the first games then started at 2:30pm.   (All games are scheduled for 6 innings; there is a 3 run scoring limit per inning for the first 5 innings, with the sixth inning unlimited for runs.)

We started the day with 10 players - an additional teammate arrived halfway through the first game and another - Stuart Cohen, one of my teammates back home - came halfway through the second game, so we ended the day with 12 players on the team.  We won our first game by a score of 7-4, beating the team managed by Stu Cliburn.  George Bedford, my DC teammate on Team Cornwell in the 48 years and older Ponce division, played on the opposing team.  He is here this week with his son, also named George - and they play together in DC in the division for players 30 years old and older.  George is a Ponce institution and it is fun to play against him and his son, but I'm glad I didn't have to pitch against him today (he normally is one of my catchers back home so he knows only too well what my pitches can and, more importantly, cannot do.)  We had consistent hitting and fielding throughout the game and very steady pitching from Wayne Horsman, Peter Shimm and Chris Clark.  I was 1-3 at bat - an infield hit that drove in a run, and scored on a sacrifice fly.  The only ball I hit hard was an outfield fly.

Chris Clark at bat
 We lost the second game by a score of 10-8 on the Stadium Field under the lights.  Because of the delayed start to the day, the second game started at 5:45pm - the first time I have played under the lights at Terry Park.  The team that beat us is managed by Victor Rodriguez, the Boston Red Sox assistant hitting coach.  We played Victor's team close throughout the game - falling behind early, tying the game and going ahead, falling back into a tie and then not catching them in the last inning when they went ahead.  Some inconsistent fielding hurt us badly in the game.  Stephan Abbuhl was a hot hitter in both games and Chris Clark - my teammate in the weeknight league back home and roommate this week - was on base a lot and hit a bomb for a triple to drive in two runs.

 I started pitching and pitched two innings and gave up 3 runs.  I felt good about my pitching except for a hard hit 2 run double that put us behind - we caught up and the game was tied 3 to 3 after my two innings.  Pete Shimm and Chris Clark pitched again in the evening - double duty after pitching in the first game as well.  I was 0 for 1 at bat and got hit by a pitch and scored on a wild pitch. 

As more players come to Fort Myers they may make adjustments to the team rosters, but so far of the 11 teammates on my team, I have played with 6 of them in the past and against the rest  -- either here in Florida or back home during our seasons in DC.  One of the great pleasures of playing Ponce is the teammates - old and new - that you have, many of whom develop into good friends.  The shared love of baseball, the common experience of competition, and the camaraderie during and after games and at occasional social contacts develop lasting bonds.

The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship,  a book by David Halberstam, tells the story of the lifelong friendship of Red Sox teammates Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom Dimaggio and Johnny Pesky who played together in the 1940's and 50's and who stayed close as they grew older.  It is a wonderful tale of how baseball can bind people for life - even if they may not have contact over many years.

A theme for me this week is the memory of past teammates and the enjoyment I have with my current teammates in Ponce De Leon baseball as I enter my dotage.  So here is the Al Denly's South Braintree Little League team from 1957.  The players aren't on a Hall of Fame banner like the one at Terry Park, but when I look at the picture I recognize many childhood friends and smile (while confessing to myself that I can't remember who all of them are.)  But they all have been teammates and friends who shared with me their love of baseball.  So to Mike Shaughnessy, Brian Prario, cousin David Morrill, Mike Settino, Dick Kearney - to all those in the picture (some who have died before their time) - it was great to play baseball with you and to have you as a teammate.

Tomorrow, Mother Nature is again in charge.  Due to a weather forecast for torrential rain all day Wednesday and perhaps Thursday morning, the schedule has again been changed.  We will play three games on Tuesday - starting at 9:30am and finishing about 5:30.  The camp director Steve Liddle wants us to get in as many games as we can while the weather permits.  So we will play an extra game tomorrow in lieu of the usual skills instruction sessions and batting practice.  I'll report on tomorrow's games if I am still standing after three games and can stay awake.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Guilt Trip - But, Still, Baseball in January!

It is great to be able to play baseball at any time - and particularly in January in what my friend and teammate Gib Willis refers to as the "Baseball Solstice" - halfway between the World Series and Opening Day.  So here I am in Fort Myers Florida - "put me in coach I'm ready to play." 

Except life is not always as easy as that, is it?  The Ponce De Leon Florida baseball camp is scheduled to start tomorrow with a registered 75 to 80 players from our senior baseball league in the Washington DC area.  Unfortunately the grande umpire - Mother Nature - called a foul ball this weekend and dumped 30 plus inches of snow - Snowzilla - on Washington.  Fortunately I was able to twice change my original plane reservation and leave early on Friday and get to Florida that night, but the storm has kept about half of the players due in Fort Myers still looking for a way to get here in time to play.   While Elizabeth encouraged me to go play baseball, I must say I feel guilty about leaving her in DC to deal with the storm.

But, I woke up today under the Florida sun ready to play baseball. The weather will be a theme all week (which would you pick - snow or sun?)  Nevertheless, the league will try to get in as many games as possible for as many players who can make it to Fort Myers.

This is the 17th year that Ponce De Leon has had a January camp in Florida, and the 10th year I have come to the camp since I started playing in the league in 2005.  The normal schedule has us playing nine 6 inning games from Monday to Friday noon.  Players are from the Ponce De Leon League in Washington and range in age from those in their 30's to players in their 70's.  The teams are formed with a mix of ages, abilities and an attempt is made to balance enough pitchers and catchers for each team to try to keep all the teams competitive for the week.  The camp is run by professional coaches who all have major or minor league coaching experience.  The Director is Steve Liddle, former bench coach for the Minnesota Twins.  Team coaches are: Arnie Beyeler, former Red Sox first base coach and current manager of the Miami Marlins AAA team, the New Orleans Zephyrs; Victor Rodriguez, assistant batting coach for the Red Sox; Stu and Stan Cliburn, who have both coached in the Twins minor league system; Rick Knapp, former Detroit Tigers pitching coach; and Darrin Garner, a minor league coordinator in the Seattle Mariners system.  Team assignments were given out tonight and I (and my Ponce weeknight teammate Chris Clark - photographer of the Sanibel Sunrise photo above) are on the team managed by Darrin Garner.

The games will be played at Terry Park - a Lee County baseball complex used in the past as a major league spring training facility for the Pirates, A's and other teams.

Due to the late arrivals because of the storm, camp will start tomorrow at noon with whatever players are here instead of the previously scheduled 9am - and we will play with four teams instead of the expected six.  The plan is for each team to play an afternoon game tomorrow, followed by an evening game.  Then it is anticipated teams will play three games on Tuesday to try to beat an expected rain storm predicted for Wednesday.  Weather and the arrival of delayed players will shape the schedule and teams for the balance of the week.

A bit of a chaotic start for the week - but a common refrain each year in Ponce is that even the worse game of baseball we play in Florida is better that the best day at work (or shoveling) in DC. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Extra Inning....

Games called on account of rain
Empty clubhouse on Friday
Well there has been a lag since my post on Friday (let's call it a rain delay) -
Empty Trainer's Room (Arnie with Larry and Chris)
we have had some internet access issues at home over the weekend, but I thought I would still do a final post to add a few observations from this year's Ponce camp.  The rain outs on Thursday and Friday were the first days totally washed out in the 15 years that Ponce has had its Florida camp -- not a bad record even if the rain put a wet rag on the end of our week this year.  Still, there was a  lot to like.

Adrian Rosati - Team D Spirit of Ponce
Team D won the championship -- and the teams were more balanced this year than ever before.  Our key inning of the week was Wednesday against Team C -- we got out of a bases loaded, no outs, 5th inning with no runs scored against us while we held a slim 8-7 lead, which became the final score.  That margin gave us an edge on our head to head competition with Team C when we tied for best record.  And that gave us the championship.  Chris Clark pitched us out of the jam, which ended when our third baseman Paul Basken pulled off a third to first double play to end the inning (with a nice scoop by Kevin Bousman at first.)  Last year I noted that the defense on my team was particularly poor for the week -- this year the defense for Team D was the best I have seen by any team in the 8 years I have been going to Florida.  We completed at least 6 double plays during the six games (and I may have missed one or two more), and we made all the routine plays with a minimum of muffs.  Our bats went cold for two games - but picked up in time for the Wednesday clincher. 

At the awards dessert on Thursday night, Adrian Rosati was given the Team D "Spirit of Ponce" award and Jamie
Ironman Walt Lynch
Bell was our MVP -- both well earned honors.  Adrian was playing - and pitching -  in his third straight week of tournaments in Florida, having played at Play at the Plate and Baseball International in the weeks before coming to the Ponce camp.  Our catcher, Walt Lynch, was the ironman for the week -- catching every inning of all our games.
I felt I had a good week -- and ended upright and feeling good physically, although admittedly missing the last three games made the week less strenuous.   The winter workouts at the batting cages -- where I have been able to hit and throw since the beginning of the year -- clearly help prepare me.   I hit well (except for 4 atrocious at bats against very slow pitchers where I lunged at bad pitches.)  I was 7-12 at the plate with a double, two walks and 7 rbi -- but struck out three times.  I felt very good pitching -- pitching three innings each day -- being effective except for two very bad innings on Tuesday when my control deserted me (I am blaming being pooped after running the bases.)  I did strike out as many batters (5) as I hit - so I guess there is some justice in that!

Chris "Perle Mesta" Clark

Chris Clark, the manager of my weeknight team at home had a typically good week pitching, at bat, and in the field.  Perhaps his greatest contribution to the week however was the superb home cooked Italian feast he gave for some folks on Wednesday night.  He even taught me how to make guacamole (I know that's not Italian) - but don't tell Elizabeth and Elaine or they will expect me to duplicate the feat.

Frank McAuliffe -- back this year after a partial knee replacement and foot surgery -- had a good week, some great at bats, and was stealing bases!  Frank and I have been working out at a batting cage in Gaithersburg - hitting and throwing a couple times a week.  It is amazing what modern medicine can do for geezer baseball.  On a related
Frank McAuliffe - Travel Companion extraordiniare
note, our pitcher Bob Willoughby, who now lives in Florida, missed the Wednesday morning game because he had a court appearance.  He was protesting a ticket he got for parking his motorcycle in a handicapped parking spot.  He told the judge that he had a handicapped parking sticker - the officer said he followed Bob from the parking spot to the baseball field!  The judge showed no leniency.  To be fair, your honor, Bob has very bad knees, hobbled at best on the pitchers mound (while pitching very effectively) and did not bat because he couldn't run the bases.  Bob Ciunci, from Rhode Island originally, played first base for us and hit well and ran the bases -- but could not throw because he had hurt his arm in an earlier tournament.  If you put the two Bobs together we would have had a complete player.  Nonetheless, it is hard to explain that a key member of your championship team uses the handicapped parking space.

Some observations:  It really struck me this week how people who make baseball their profession are so far ahead in
understanding the game and how to play it than even the most ardent fan.  Several small examples spoke volumes -- at the pitching clinic on Monday, Stu Cliburn and Tom Brown had an extensive discussion about where to stand on the pitcher's rubber and why and the different theories that different teams have about that, followed on Tuesday about strategy for pitching when you are behind in the count.  The detail and considerations for such ordinary - but fundamental - aspects of the game were telling.  On Wednesday evening, Arnie told us about his
Victor Rodriguez telling Steve Liddle that he saw things on the playing field this week that he had never seen before!
normal day as a first base coach and as the coach who positions the outfielders defensively -- arriving at the park at noon for a 7pm game, studying film on upcoming opponents for 5 hours a day ("where do you want to play Longoria when he has two strikes; how does your defense positioning differ if you are playing in Fenway or in Tampa or Yankee Stadium; how does an opponent handle Lester's pitches differently from Dubront's, even though both are hard throwing lefthanded pitchers ......?")  The level of analysis and strategy is far greater than the most fanatical fan realizes.  In referring to this level of detail,  Bill Lee on Tuesday said that everyone should read Malcolm Gladwell's book 'Outliers' where Gladwell establishes the "10,000 hour rule" as the key for success in any field -- music, athletics, etc.   His thesis is that excellence depends on practicing a specific task for at least 10,000 hours.  You realize that professional baseball people meet that 10,000 hour rule - and that success depends on that commitment as well as talent.

For me, baseball is a great game to play and watch -- and it is best when you can share it with friends and family.  Of the 75 players here this week, I have played with or against more than 60 of them.  A nice feature since I started playing 9 years ago is that many of those players -- and more on the teams back home -- have become good friends.
Kathy, Jay, George, Flint, Elizabeth and Pat with Big Papi
There are shared interests (baseball the anchor one), you see them weekly, get to know them as teammates or opponents over the years, and enjoy your contact with them.  And this week -- and playing in Ponce -- is an extension of a lifelong connection of enjoying baseball with friends -- going back 60 years or more.  When I was moaning about my aches and pains (feeling my age) and whether or not I should go to camp this year, my friend
George wrote:  "If truth be told, Jay, we need you to keep on playing Ponce baseball for us as much as for you.  If and when you quit, we all get old (not that we aren't already, but the things we give up or can't do anymore tend to remind us of just how old we are.)  You are also a harbinger of spring and a connection to the coming season."  Inspiration from one geezer to another.  A highlight of the year for Elizabeth and me is our, now annual, baseball weekends with George and his wife Kathy and our friends Flint and his wife Pat.

Kevin Bousman, Bob Bousman, Elliott Sledd -- Champions!
And a real theme this week was baseball as a family activity.  It was a great pleasure to play with the three generations of the Bousman/Sledd family -- Granddad Bob Bousman, Son/Uncle Kevin Bousman, and Grandson/Nephew Elliott Sledd.  It makes the game timeless to see how the generations spanning 70 years enjoy -- and play -- baseball together.  You could just tell that Bob and Kevin love to watch Elliott play in high school -- and that baseball is a bonding experience in their family.  And it was easy to see how much Elliott admired and liked watching his Grandfather and Uncle play the game that he clearly loves.  Fathers and sons have played at Ponce before, but this is the first year for three generations of the same family.  I don't know of a camper who wasn't at least a little bit envious of that wonderful family experience this week.  I, for one, hope we see more of it in the future.

HedSox in Seattle - Doug, Ben, Bill, Mike, Jay, Scott, Kyle
For me baseball has always been a family game.  I learned it from my four older brothers.  Went to Fenway with my brothers, my mother, uncles and friends when I was growing up.  One of my favorite pastimes is watching
HedSox in Detroit - Kate and Mike get chased by a Tiger
the Red Sox every night with Elizabeth and discussing the game and the season -- who's pitching, how did the Yankees do, what new players do we need to learn this year?  And each year for the last nine years, my brothers Bill and Doug and I, along with a gaggle of nephews and nieces, have taken a 'HedSox' road trip -- Hedlunds following the Red Sox for a weekend series someplace in the U.S. (although Toronto is not out of the question.)  This year we will be going to Oakland in June for a four game series.  Serious Red Sox time, and quality family time.  Brought to you by baseball.

See you in Florida for Ponce again next year, George.