‘He’s the best baseball player I ever saw’

We went to our last Sounds game of the season Saturday night.

Nashville beat Memphis 6-3. We stayed after the game for fireworks and so Things 1 and 2 could join 1,000 other kids in running the bases.

Before we left the house, I read online that one of our best hitters, a guy named Taylor Green, had been called up from the Triple-A Sounds to join the Milwaukee Brewers, and I remembered the time we went to a late-season game 5 summers ago, and Thing 1’s favorite player wasn’t there.

Corey Hart (photo by majorvols/Flickr)

Thing 1 was only 6 years old, but she’d noticed that Corey Hart would usually get on base if not drive it out of the ballpark, and when he wasn’t there, she noticed.

When we got home, Thing 1 got ready for bed, and I went online to find out what had happened to Corey Hart.

“He’s been called up,” I told her. “He’s gone to play for Milwaukee.”

It was late, Thing 1 was tired, and she started sobbing.

“What’s wrong?”

“I miss him!” she said.

“It’s OK. This is a good thing. The guys who play for Nashville want to play for Milwaukee.”

“When’s he coming back?” she asked.

“Well, unless he gets hurt or something, he probably won’t be back. He’s playing for Milwaukee now.”

Thing 1 began crying harder and said, “I want to send him a letter.”

I thought that was very sweet. “What do you want to say?” I asked.

“COME BACK!”

“OK,” I said. “We can write him a letter in the morning. Time for bed.”

She was still crying a little when I tucked her in. “It’s OK,” I told her. “He’s happy. This is what he wanted.”

She said, “I miss him. He’s the best baseball player I ever saw.”

She was asleep before I could turn out the light.

A quick lesson in sportsmanship

Photo by Skoch3 via Wikipedia

Thing 2 (the 5-year-old) is playing coach-pitch baseball.

This is where the coach pitches, and after 5, 6 or 7 strikes (the rules aren’t fixed), the batter uses a tee. They play 3 innings. No one is ever called out, and an inning lasts until everyone hits the ball and circles the bases. They don’t keep score, but if they did, each side’s score would be the number of players who showed up, multiplied by 3. It’s a practice league. They’re learning the fundamentals, and that’s about it.

Thing 2, though, has also learned something about sportsmanship.

Max Patkin

He was playing 2nd base the other night, and he didn’t have a lot to do besides watch the game and think of funny ways to wear his baseball cap (he settled on wearing it sideways, kind of like Max Patkin).

Midway through the 2nd inning, Thing 2 started high-fiving the kids on the other team as they jogged from 1st to 2nd.

He didn’t care that the kids were on the other team, and he didn’t care that they might be “winning.” He knows how hard it is to hit the ball, and he thought he ought to congratulate them for doing it.

I know he’ll eventually outgrow that kind of enthusiasm, but I kind of hope he doesn’t.

When the N.Y. Yankees came to Appalachia

Today is Opening Day, the first day of baseball season. Opening Day means spring — real spring, not this chilly aboration we’re experiencing, but real spring — is finally here.

Opening Day is also as good excuse as any to talk about what is surely one of the niftiest — and most ill-conceived — promotions in minor-league baseball history, and it happened in the town where I grew up.

I’m from a place called Paintsville, Kentucky, population 3,800 in 1980. Paintsville is about 2 hours east of Lexington and about an hour south of the nearest interstate highway. Paintsville isn’t on anyone’s way anywhere, but, in 1978, thanks to the efforts of Paul Fyffe, who owned the town’s only radio station, it landed a minor-league baseball team.

Originally called the Hilanders, it soon became the Appalachian League’s Yankees’ affiliate.

(I posted a version of this story in July when the New York Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner, passed away, so, if you happened to read it then, I’ll understand if you click away now.)

In the summer of 1980, Darryl Strawberry signed with the Yankees arch rivals, the New York Mets, and he began his career down in Kingsport, Tennessee. Darryl Strawberry was already a star, a kid everyone knew would make the Hall of Fame someday, and, as luck would have it, he would play his first professional baseball game in Paintsville.

Paul Fyffe was a good businessman, and he saw this is a great way to get folks out to the ballpark. You could get in free if you brought a strawberry to the game, the concession stand sold nothing but strawberry pop, and Paul hired a helicopter to drop strawberries onto the field.

The game was a sellout, but, remember, we were the Yankees, and Darryl Strawberry was signed with the New York Mets, so when George Steinbrenner read in The Sporting News about his Rookie League team in eastern Kentucky throwing a big party for a kid who’d signed with the Mets, he had a conniption, and word was that he threatened to pull the team out of Paintsville on the spot.

I don’t know whether the talk was exaggerated or whether the league wouldn’t let the Yankees move, but the Yankees stayed in Paintsville through the ’82 season. (The Paintsville Tri-County Yankees won the league champion in ’79, ’80 and ’81 and finished second in ’82.)

When the Yankees finally left, Paul brought in the Brewers, but they lasted only a couple seasons, and no one came to replace them.

Strawberry, of course, wound up working for Steinbrenner and retired from the Yankees in ’99.

The high school ballpark where the Yankees played was torn down a few years ago and replaced with a nicer one. We visited my folks last weekend, and when I drove by the school, I missed seeing it.