Sunday, July 1, 2012

Legacies in Norwich: Game 65 in Connecticut

What do you call the offshoots of stars?  Perhaps asteroids, if you’re focusing on heavenly bodies, or starlets, if you’re thinking of Hollywood.  But if you’re talking about ballplayers, their names might include Colin, Bo, and Patrick, all of whom played for the Connecticut Tigers in 2011.  As offspring of former Major League stars, Colin Kaline and Patrick Leyland seemed to have been born with the gene of Tiger stripes.  Colin’s grandfather Al, of course, had been a perennial all-star for Detroit for more than two decades, and Patrick’s dad had managed the Tigers to a divisional championship in the American League during the previous season.  They were joined in their Tiger legacy by pitcher Nick Avila, the son of one of Detroit’s vice presidents.

But what about Bo?  Although he did not come naturally by his Tiger paws, McClendon’s father Lloyd had played for the Pirates in the late 90s before becoming their manager for five years at the beginning of the 21st century.  Although Bo got drafted by a different team than his father’s, he had earlier followed in his father’s footsteps as a university ballplayer, having starred, like his father, at Valparaiso.   
Unlike his Hall of Fame grandfather, Colin did not enjoy an outstanding start to his professional career.  Al, of course, was well known for skipping the Minor Leagues altogether and for making his Major League debut as an 18-year-old outfielder in Detroit in the early summer of 1953.  In case Colin needed to be reminded of his grandfather's prowess, he could note the street sign leading to the Tigers' Spring Training ballpark in Lakeland.   It bears his grandfather's name.  
The street leading to Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland features the Kaline name.
This afternoon, Colin himself starred.  In the second inning his single advanced a teammate to second, positioning him to score the game’s first run on a subsequent hit.  And in the sixth inning Kaline singled again, enjoying one of his best offensive outputs of the summer.  In the short season of the NYP League, he hit safely only 26 times.  A second baseman, Colin finished the season with a .222 batting average, striking out in one-fifth of his plate appearances while collecting only 6 RBIs with no homeruns. 

While Patrick Leyland, a catcher, sat on the bench throughout the game, he fared about the same as Kaline during the season, getting an equal number of hits in one more at-bat, but including one homerun total while doubling Kaline’s number of RBI’s.
The influx of Tiger prospects was most welcome to the Connecticut team since this season represented only the second year its affiliation with the Tigers and its demotion to a Short Season A level schedule.  In previous years the Connecticut team had operated at the AA level in the Eastern League, first for the Yankees, who moved their franchise to Trenton, and more recently for the Giants, who moved their AA team to Richmond.  The last Connecticut Giants’ team had included six players who were on San Francisco’s World Championship roster in 2010.  After losing these Giants’ highly touted prospects, the fans were delighted to welcome the arrival of recognizable Tigers’ names in Dodd Memorial Stadium.

While the pride of Detroit Tigers’ progeny honed their skills on the field, the Connecticut Tigers’ mascot—C.T., the Tiger— flubbed a couple of his standard routines.  Typically, the team mascot tries to tease fans, often playfully embarrassing them.  This afternoon, however, C. T. got his own tail twisted, twice to the point of blushing through the feline mask.  
Alex Russo smiles after besting C.T.
After the third inning, C.T. invited a young fan to race him from first to third, with a planned joke coming at the foul line when C.T. would shoot the winning kid with a water gun.  But this time 11-year-old Alex Russo upstaged C.T., not merely winning the race, as would be expected, but foiling the water gun ambush by cart-wheeling safely across the third base bag and sprinting on into the stands behind the dugout.  Dumbfounded, C.T. merely put his hands akimbo on his stripes and shrugged.
A couple of innings later, the mascot muffed another effort.  This time, C.T.  was supposed to shoot a souvenir T-shirt into the stands.  But his sling-shot aim went awry, and the shirt thwanged into the dugout, narrowly missing the manager!  

Despite these glitches in the mascot’s routines, the staff at Norwich was most cordial and supportive.  When I arrived at the ballpark, Dave Schermerhorn, the team’s Director of Community Relations and Promotions, greeted me warmly and asked to see Arby.  He had hoped that we’d be driving the RV to the ballpark, and he had alerted the parking lot staff to reserve several spaces for it.  Regrettably, I let him know that Arby was still moored an hour’s drive to the north in Massachusetts.  By driving Toad to the game, we had been easily able to follow blue highways from Wales to Norwich, first taking Highway 19 south through Stafford Springs and then connecting with Highway 32 down through Willimantic and for several miles along a low ridge above the Shetucket River.
In Norwich another gracious welcome was extended on the field.  Minutes before I moved to home plate to sing, hitting coach Scott Dwyer came out of the Tigers’ dugout to express appreciation for my anthem effort.  A few nights earlier he had seen me in Lowell.  Since he had attended Menlo College, a Bay area rival of Whittier, he wanted to connect with a fellow Californian. 

Following the pre-game ceremonies an appreciative usher asked if Bonnie and I wanted to move from our assigned sun- bleached boxes to more comfortable seats.   Bonnie didn’t hesitate in turning to follow him up the aisle and staircase to the air conditioned suites and their concession lounge.  According to the official statistics for the game, the temperature at the time of the first pitch was 90 degrees in the shade, which existed in a single row of reserved seats.   
A single row of seats enjoys some Sunday shade at Dodd Stadium.
As memorable as the skybox was because of its relief from the heat and glare, the space made a greater impression because most of the other patrons paid more attention to the game on telecast—the U.S. women’s soccer miracle against Brazil—than to Connecticut’s contest with Brooklyn.  One who was more interested in baseball than the Women’s World Cup was the brother of Eric Ammerer, the broadcaster for the Tigers.  Confessing that he had been a philosophy major in college, he queried me for several innings with philosophical concerns about the nature of good and evil, the relation between justice and peace, and the prospects for universal salvation.  While we puzzled through these issues and shared stories about our love of baseball, a foul ball crashed off the glass in front of my face.  I didn’t react quickly enough to duck or to throw my hands up.  Talk about divine protection!  And I thought that headers should have been restricted to the women’s soccer game on TV!

By 3:30 the game was over.  The Tigers beat the Cyclones 2 to 1, and Bonnie and I leapt into Toad and headed south, not north back to Arby.  In half an hour we wound our way toward the harbor at Mystic and parked at the Captain Daniel Packer Inne.  Descending its narrow flight of stairs, we imagined that we might be moving down the steps like Ben Franklin or John Adams, either of whom might have visited the Inne when it was new.  An open table by the crackling fire in the stone fireplace beckoned to us.  What a contrast to our high seats in an air cooled skybox only hours earlier:  Now sitting adjacent to the hearth in an eighteenth-century pub overlooking Mystic’s harbor, we reveled in the romance of the lapping fire while we enjoyed the daily specials featuring shrimp and scallops.
The harbor view from the Packer Inne.
After dinner, we strolled along historic streets lined with rock walls and sprays of blue and yellow flowers, and we sat on a bench by the harbor listening to weekend sailors tying up their skiffs as we smelled the salty air.  When dusk began to envelop the evening, we headed back to Arby, retracing our path along the state highways.  As we neared the Massachusetts state line, Toad drew unnecessary attention from a Connecticut state trooper, perhaps because his California plates seemed so out of place or because he was hopping along so leisurely, drawing suspicion simply because he was so contented, as were we.
The floral aura of a Mystic street.

No comments:

Post a Comment