Week of July 14, 2017

Casper Lang making it look good. 


Ain’t Nothing But A Family Thing*

The same thing happens to me after every 4th of July. I go back to Minnesota, spend a summer week at my favorite place on earth: my parents’ cabin. I play catch with my nieces and nephews, play cards, take boat rides, sit around the bonfire, and run long stretches of country roads. The days go on forever, the mosquitos are insufferable, and the conversations run into the morning hours. Then I say goodbye, again, and hop on a plane back to California, having caught another nasty case of homesickness.

I love California, but I miss Minnesota. And then Uncle Gary sends me this story. It’s a great story, but it’s not helping this round of homesickness.

There are pockets in Minnesota that are obsessed with baseball. Yes, we’re known for hockey, but the entire state doesn’t fall in line on that one. In fact, there are many parts of the state – places like Chaska, New Ulm, Wilmar, and Luverne – small, beautiful towns more or less out of Field of Dreams that love baseball. Baseball has a long tradition up north, and nowhere is that tradition more alive than Stearns County. I know, albeit secondhand. We’ll get to that in a jiff.

It’s called townball. Mens league baseball. In Stearns County, a collection of small towns 100 miles up I-94 from the Twin Cities, townball has seen very little changes over a very long period of time.

The uniqueness of the Stearns County League is that it dates to 1950 in what is basically its present form. Regal was an early member, as was Freeport. Meire Grove and Greenwald were Green-Grove until separate teams were formed in 1959.

For nearly six decades, it has been those two, plus Farming, Lake Henry, St. Martin, New Munich, Richmond and Roscoe. Of course, 1983 saw the admission of Elrosa and Spring Hill.

To be a true Stearns County town, Farming resident and Mike Schleper claims three requirements: “a Catholic church, two bars, and a ballfield.”

I was 18 when I first saw just what Stearns County baseball was all about. My future college roommate, Ryan Nett, invited me up to his place for the weekend ahead of us going to school. We had played on a fall league team together, hit it off, and ended up deciding to play baseball at a small college in South Dakota. I grew up in the suburbs, and by that I mean exactly what you’re picturing in your head right now. As far as I knew, Ryan grew up just outside of St. Cloud, a 15,000-student state college town.

Ryan did not grow up in St. Cloud. He grew up in Farming, Minnesota, on a farm. He played on a townball team with his three brothers. His dad had played on the same team. The Farming Flames field, to a suburbia kid, seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, along a country road surrounded by nothing. But — and I mean no disrespect — much of the township of Farming is a series of country roads surrounded by open space.

I go to the game. The small, grandstand is selling unmatched 6-packs of Premium and Mich Golden and Bud Lights. I sit and watch a wood bat game between teams comprised of has-beens, teenagers, and hot-shot college ballplayers. I get slowly drunk on the metal bleachers, and so does everyone else in the stands (which are full). Cars are backed up along the right field line. It could’ve been a postcard. Ryan, his older ox of a brother Aaron, and I think Ted play in the game. Ryan will want you to know he hit a home run, so let’s just slip that in right here. And the game, it’s not just ‘Hey, we’re just having fun’. These men with beer guts and teenagers with wristbands of faux flair are competing. They’re arguing with umpires and going in hard at second.

I loved it, but I thought it was absurd at the time.

Patrick Reusse’s story below captures the wonderful tradition of the Stearns County league. 17 year later, I don’t think it’s absurd at all. No, 17 years later, as I play softball in San Francisco, I think the Stearns County League sounds just about right. Remember, I’m in the thick of the post-cabin homesickness.

I stand at shortstop in these softball games, and – if I’m being honest – I can’t stand that I’m playing softball. I have to admit, A League of Their Own got baseball right: It’s the hard that makes it great. While everything about baseball requires precision, everything about softball is proximity.

There’s a familiarity in going through the paces of playing softball, but I don’t love softball. I don’t know if I even like it. Everything about softball is going through the motions of baseball at a slower, meandering pace, aided by longer, lighter, trampoline bats swung by men who either take it way too seriously or not nearly serious enough. There’s nothing exact about it.

My first love was baseball. So why am I pulling up short at second on a force out when there are guys older than me mixing it up in a real baseball game under the lights in Farming, Minnesota?

It’s easy to read this story and look at the pictures and react to the Rockwell, Greatest Generation quaintness of it all, but that would be missing the point. The league is more than that.

The Stearns County League pays for the Little League and Babe Ruth teams. They raise money from pull tabs and sausage breakfasts. When they’re short on funds to get lights, they reach out to family and the community, and they get it done. These communities built the league, and it became a part of their identity, as much as the Catholic Church and the two bars in town.

I’m realizing now my summary reads more like a meditation than a pitch for you to click on the story link below. But I think romance can lead one to meditate, and there’s something damn romantic about townball in Stearns County. – PAL

Footnotes:

  • This story was submitted by our loyal reader, Gary Livingston. Have a great story you think we should post? Send it to us at 123sportslist@gmail.com
  • * I’ll buy a burger and a beer to the reader who can tell me what show this title comes from (don’t be that guy and look it up)

Source: The Summer Game: Townball Rules Sundays in Central Minnesota”, Patrick Reusse, Star Tribune (7/10/17)


Don’t Be That Sports Dad

This week, Rays’ outfielder Colby Rasmus mysteriously “stepped away”from baseball for “personal reasons”. Rasmus will walk away from over $2M with this decision, which is ever the more peculiar because he’s on the disabled list, anyways.  He could have just sat there and collected his money. Rasmus was having a nice season – hitting .281 with an OPS of .896 and 9 home runs in just 37 games before he was placed on the DL on June 23. So why is he walking away? And what does that mean? Is it a retirement? Or a temporary break? And what are the personal reasons that led to his decision? I was curious about this, and then saw the following tweet from Toronto Star reporter Brendan Kennedy (Rasmus had spent the last few years with the Blue Jays before signing with the Rays in the offseason):

Yes, Colby Ramus’ dad made Colby and his brothers practice for four hours, every single day, year-round. That is some terrible parenting. In the short-term, I guess he was “successful” – Rasmus and his two brothers all played professional baseball. In the long-term, though, he was decidedly not successful. I am speculating, of course, but it’s not off-the-wall to suggest Colby is walking away because he hates playing baseball, and that he hates playing baseball because his dad forced him to play so much. Colby’s brother, Casey, unexpectedly retired, too, at age 24 while in the minor leagues.

Whether this is the reason for Rasmus’ retirement is unclear, but what is clear, from Colby’s quote in that tweet, is that his dad was a terrible sports parent who made his kid not enjoy the game he has played his entire life. The story evokes memories of other bad sports parents like Todd Marinovich’s dad, or Mary Pierce’s dad:

Jim Pierce’s treatment of his daughter Mary was possibly the most brutal of all. He once admitted training his daughter eight hours a day, sometimes until midnight.

“For seven years, eight hours a day, I hit 700 serves at Mary. I wouldn’t let her leave until she got it right. Sure she cried,” he said.

Like Damir, he was well known for berating Mary in public. After an altercation with a spectator in the French Open in 1993, he was banned from all Women’s Tennis Association Tour events for five years and Mary dropped him as her coach and placed a restraining order on him.

He then became embroiled in a knife fight with her bodyguard. Mary was eventually reported to have paid him £300,000 to leave her alone when he subsequently sued her, claiming a share of her earnings.

Geeze. Don’t be like that, Sports Dads. -TOB

Source: Rays Outfielder Colby Rasmus Steps Away From Baseball For Personal Reasons”, Dan Gartland, Sports Illustrated (07/13/2017)

PAL: This is a tough one, because there’s a lot of speculation. The guy could be sick, or someone in his family could be sick. He could be going through some personal problems that have nothing to do with his dad.

With that caveat in mind about Rasmus, I’ve never understood the overbearing sports parents. It just seems like a lose-lose situation, even under the best circumstances. I don’t know about you, but the “I know what’s best for you” approach doesn’t usually seem to work out with kids. Even if the kid turns out to be a professional, what kind of parent-child relationship does that lead to? Where is the joy in the game when your parent is berating you for the millionth time?

TOB: I want to be clear: I agree he could be leaving for many reasons, and I state I am speculating that it’s because of his dad. BUT. That doesn’t change the quote from Colby about his dad – that’s a Bad Sports Dad.


Cubs Trade for Quinana Leads to Greatest Media Correction Ever

On Thursday, the White Sox traded their ace, Jose Quintana, to the cross-town, defending World Series Champion, but struggling mightily, Cubs. The Cubs gave up four Top-100 prospects, including the their top hitting and pitching prospects – no small price to pay. Quintana has been a very good pitcher the last 6 years. He struggled early this season, but has been very good again since early June, and he’s under relatively cheap control over the next 3 years, for a total of $30M. The story would not be very interesting, and not something I’d normally write about here. BUT. The story got hilarious, quickly.

News of the trade hit without any leaks or rumors, which is rare. The GMs of the two teams reportedly met in private during the All-Star game, which explains how they could have done a deal of this magnitude without any major press picking up on it. I say major because a few hours after the trade was announced, a Reddit thread from the night before started making the rounds. There, a reddit user named “KatyPerrysBootyHole” (yes.) started a thread about a possible Cubs trade for Quintana:

Hey guys, take this with a grain of salt, but I heard from a friend who’s brothers friend works for the cubs (sounds like bullshit I know), that Q is going to the cubs in exchange for 4 players. Has anyone heard anything similar?

A short while later, another user named “Wetbutt23” (hell yes.) confirmed the rumor though clarified it was Quintana for four prospects, and later confirmed the deal was done and the players were undergoing physicals (KatyPerrysBootyHole confirmed Wetbutt23 was his/her source).

The names are funny, obviously, but what really got me was the fact the news of the Reddit thread forced CSNChicago.com to post this amazing correction to a story about how the trade stayed under the media’s radar:

Correction: While no national media had this story, a Reddit user named “wetbutt23″ had it last night. CSNChicago.com apologizes to wetbutt23 for the error.

Ohhhhh, yes. Every time I read that second sentence, I laugh. It’s days like these the internet really delivers the goods. -TOB

Source: KatyPerrysBootyHole And Wetbutt23 Broke The Jose Quintana Trade”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (07/13/2017)

PAL: My only question is whether or not this post is NSFW.

TOB: I sure hope not…


Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Johnny Cash – “One” (U2)


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“It’s nice because the flavour of the Starbursts really bring out a similar flavour in the Skittles.”

-A. Dwyer

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