SpaceX Makes History as the United States Enters a New Era in Human Spaceflight

Today, the Space Exploration Technologies Company, or SpaceX as it is more commonly known, made history by becoming the first private company to launch humans from American soil when a Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon capsule attached to the pointy end on top launched NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, from historic Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Earlier today historic Launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center was the site of America’s first flight of humans since July 8, 2011 when Space Shuttle Atlantis launched for the final time. Photo R. Anderson

Aside from being a giant leap for a private company, the launch marks the first time that any humans have launched from American soil since Space Shuttle Atlantis, which was piloted by Hurley, launched from Pad 39A for STS-135 on July 8, 2011, and landed on July 21, 2011.

In the nearly a decade since “wheels stop” on Atlantis was called out in the predawn hours, the only way to get humans to and from the International Space Station has been in a Soyuz capsule launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

It is sobering to think that the country that put the first humans on the lunar surface went almost 10 years without a means to launch people into space from Kennedy Space Center.

For the first time in nearly a decade Americans launched from Pad 39A which has hosted among other flights, the first trip to the moon as well as the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program.
Photo R. Anderson

The reasoning behind why the leader in space exploration lost its way and floundered, are best served in another column on another day. Today is a day to celebrate an achievement by SpaceX, and all of the dedicated people of the Commercial Crew Office at NASA. It is not a day to look back at a decade of starts, stops, and what ifs.

By all accounts, SpaceX was not supposed to be the company that returned humans into space from KSC, but they reached the finish line first by asking “why can’t we do it this way instead?,” versus sticking to what had always been done.

Space Shuttle Atlantis is now on display at the KSC Visitor’s Complex after being the last of the orbiters to see space. Doug Hurley was the pilot of that mission and commanded the Demo 2 mission which saw a return to human spaceflight launched from American soil.
Photo R. Anderson

In 2002, I had an opportunity to hear SpaceX founder Elon Musk speak about his vision for changing the way spaceflight was conducted shortly after he founded SpaceX.

Many of the people in the audience thought it was crazy to think that a company could start from scratch and succeed in the aerospace business. Musk proved that one could in fact succeed as a new kid on the block.

Following SpaceX, several other commercial space firms, like Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, and Virgin Galactic, founded by Sir Richard Branson, were formed.

The new frontier of space exploration led by companies like SpaceX, and Blue Origin, is likely to lead to even more innovations as private companies look at the most cost-effective way to safely fly.

While the basics of flight dynamics remain a constant, there is always wiggle room in the margins. For decades, the first stage of rockets were left to rust away in a watery grave in the Atlantic Ocean. However, the science fiction foretold process of landing rockets upright became reality when SpaceX showed that they could land their Falcon 9 first stages upright on land, and on a barge at sea, in order to reuse them as a cost savings measure. SpaceX also looked into ways to catch fairings with a ship equipped with a large net like a ballplayer chasing down a baseball in the outfield.

A Falcon 9 first stage makes its way to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2016. The ability to land the boosters and refurbish them near the launch site has led to a decrease in the number of cross country trips for the boosters as well as cost savings.
Photo R. Anderson

SpaceX has had many innovations, however, that is not to say that the road was not bumpy. There were several high-profile failures leading up to this launch, including the loss of the vehicle that had previously flown to the ISS as part of the Demo 1 mission.

In fact, Musk has embraced the failures as learning opportunities by often saying, “There’s a silly notion that failure’s not an option at NASA. Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”

Congratulations to all of the people who worked so hard to make the Demo 2 launch a success.
Photo R. Anderson

Failures and losses of launch vehicles also occurred during the early development stages of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Programs. Additionally, the Apollo Program lost three astronauts during a tragic fire on the pad during a test run for the Apollo I mission.

The Space Shuttle Program saw the loss of 14 astronauts with the Challenger and Columbia incidents. Each of these cases show that no matter the decade, space travel remains difficult and filled with inherent risk.

These tragedies also underline the importance of learning lessons from each failure and taking steps to ensure that the same failures do not occur again.

Growing up in the shadow of the Kennedy Space Center, I saw the dangers of space travel firsthand when I witnessed the Space Shuttle Challenger explode from my vantage point on the elementary school recess field. The teachers quickly ushered us back inside when they realized that something had gone wrong, but years later, I can still close my eyes and picture what the sky looked like on that cold January morning.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program includes partnerships with Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. SpaceX became the first private company to launch people from American soil earlier today.
Photo R. Anderson

With the launch of Demo 2, a new era of government and private commercial partnership took one small step together. The Commercial Crew Program going to ISS is just the start of an ambitious interplanetary goal of returning to the moon, and eventually putting the first boot prints on the surface of Mars.

There are many challenges to go in order to reach those goals, and sadly history tells us that there may be tragedy as we stretch towards the unexplored horizons.

In a 1962 speech at Rice University, President John F. Kennedy, challenged America to go to the moon, “not because it was easy, but because it was hard.” Sadly, JFK was not alive to see his challenge fulfilled on July 20, 1969. However, over 50 years later, the center that bears his name is still pushing the envelope and reaching for the stars.

President John F. Kennedy inspired a generation to go to the moon nearly 60 years ago. NASA and their commercial partners have once again set their sights on the moon as well as Mars.
Photo R. Anderson

For five years, I have waited for the launch of this mission dubbed Demo 2. At times, I wondered whether this day would ever arrive after launch slip after launch slip was announced.

I had planned to be there for the launch in person cheering it on. The COVID-19 virus changed that plan, and I was forced to watch from home. Of course, that just meant that I had to cheer even louder, even though I have heard that in space no one can hear you scream.

Congratulations to all of the hardworking men and women who made the Demo 2 launch a success. I have seen firsthand the work in the trenches that went into getting to this point, so I know that the victory lap is both long overdue, and well deserved. Of course, the victory lap will be short, as there are more flights to get ready for.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go talk to somebody about their plans to occupy mars.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Many Situations in Life Would be Better with Walk up Music

Go to any baseball game from Little League to Major League, and odds are that when a batter is coming up to the plate, they will be serenaded by walk up music.

The type of walk up music selected varies depending on the player. Players often alternate their walk-up music between the guitar driven hair band standards, as well as pop music depending on their moods. Other players may even select country music or hip hop for their walk-up theme.

During the Washington Nationals’ 2019 run to the World Series Championship, Gerardo Parra, united a team, and a fan base, by walking up to the song ‘Baby Shark.’ Nats Nation took the Baby Shark craze to extremes with fans dressed up in shark suits in Nationals Park. An engraved shark was even included on the Nationals World Series Championship ring as a tribute to the role that baby shark, mommy shark, and daddy shark played in bringing the title home to Washington D.C.

During the Washington Nationals’2019 run to the World Series Championship, Gerardo Parra, united a team, and a fan base, by walking up to the song ‘Baby Shark.’
Photo R. Anderson

Whether the music selected is hard rockin’ or bubble gum poppin’, it serves a key purpose when it comes to the battle between the pitcher and the batter.

Or as Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh from Bull Durham would say the players use the music to, “Announce their presence with authority.”

Granted it would be hard for a batter to announce their presence with authority by walking out to the pop styling of Carley Rae Jepson’s Call me Maybe?, but it could be a good call maybe if it made the pitcher laugh so hard that he couldn’t throw a strike.

As with everything in baseball, there are rules to the walk-up music. The songs chosen need to be family friendly and the music is supposed to stop once the player enters the batter’s box.

Of course, a really good walk up song can lead to players lollygagging their way to the batter’s box to hear more of their “theme” before facing the pitcher.

A few years back while catching a Blue Wahoos game in Pensacola, FL, I had the pleasure of watching the home plate umpire make sure the plate was spotless so that more of Neil Diamond’s, “Sweet Caroline” could serenade the people in the grandstands. I must say, that it was so good, so good, so good.
Photo R. Anderson

A few years back while catching a Blue Wahoos game in Pensacola, FL, I had the pleasure of watching the home plate umpire make sure the plate was spotless so that more of Neil Diamond’s, “Sweet Caroline” could serenade the people in the grandstands. I must say, that it was so good, so good, so good.

While there is not an exact Archimedes stepping into the tub and shouting “Eureka” moment when it comes to the invention of walk up music, most baseball people point to the 1993 Seattle Mariners as the fathers of the walkup.

While certain individual players had used walk up music before, the Mariners are widely credited with being the first team to come up with a song for each of their players in the lineup.

It seems fitting that the city that brought flannel and grunge to the world of music would also be the city to bring music to the batter’s box.

An idea that some felt was stupid turned contagious in 1993 when the city that brought the world grunge music brought walk up music to Major League Baseball when the Seattle Mariners became the first MLB team to have walk up music throughout their lineup. Soon the idea was in bloom throughout all levels of baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

After the Nats claimed the World Series title in 2019, the Seattle Mariners became the only MLB team to have never appeared in a World Series. Still, despite never appearing in a World Series, the Mariners can at least lay claim to being the champions of the walk up.

Of course, theme music is not limited to batters. Pitchers, especially closers, have also gotten into the act of having music introduce them.

Retired New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera famously walked out from the bullpen to the sounds of “Enter Sandman” from Metallica.

And of course, who can forget Charlie Sheen as Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn walking out to “Wild Thing” in the Major League franchise.

The cinematic walk up music predates the Mariners walk up trend by about five years, and is also often pointed to as being instrumental in the evolution of walk up music.

The Ballparks of the world are mostly silent now thanks to the COVID-19 virus. Or, put another way, as John Candy’s security guard character told Clark Griswald in National Lampoon’s Vacation, “Sorry folks, park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.”

Of course, just because the Ballpark is closed, it doesn’t mean there can’t be walk up music in other areas of life. Just think how much more exciting life could be if all of our big moments were preceded by music.

Just picture the boardroom scenario where someone says the following. “Now up to present the quarterly earnings report, Joe Smith” (cue the music).

After a few bars of (insert song here) Joe knocks the earnings report out of the park while his coworkers serenade him with Queen’s “We are the Champions” and fist bump each other on the way out of the conference room. (Editor’s note: fist bumping may be changed to socially distanced air bumping to avoid contact in the post COVID-19 working remotely world.)

Of course, different situations in life would require different music.

While some situations might call for some Pearl Jam, others may require heavy organ sounds of Bach. Others situations might even find people moving their hips and nodding their heads like yeah.

Pearl Jam and Walk up music are two Seattle originals still going strong for over two decades and counting.
Photo R. Anderson

Just cue up the appropriate song for whatever situation comes up and one is ready for anything that life throws their way.

Your curbside grocery pickup order didn’t have any missing items? Well, that calls for some “Back in Black” by Def Leopard as you drive past the people still waiting for toilet paper.

While it is unlikely that the walk-up song idea outside of the Ballpark will catch on any time soon, it is certainly something to think about the next time you’re listening to the radio, or filling out that dreaded TPS Report before video conferencing with your boss.

In the spirit of promoting everyday walk up music, I guess my walk-up music in this new era of COVID-19 would be the Kenny Loggins classic “I’m Alright” complete with dancing gopher from Caddyshack.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a strange urge to listen to some Neil Diamond while brushing away invisible dirt with a tiny brush.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Pomp, Circumstance, and Some Words in Between for the Class of COVID-19

Tis the season when new graduates of all shapes and sizes will enter the world. Some will enter the workforce and start the task of paying off student loans, that are in some cases are way more money than what their incomes of their chosen fields will cover.

Others will continue adding to those student loans by going to graduate school, or culinary school, or any other thing with school in the title, in order to delay the clock on paying off those student loans.

For others, this is the time to graduate from high school and start the journey to college and the accumulation of those aforementioned student loans.

It is the time of year where students of all ages will be sporting graduation bling like this medal.
Photo R. Anderson

While the season of commencement occurs every year, at every level of education, graduation for the Class of 2020 will be unlike anything witnessed in modern times thanks to the COVID-19 virus.

While graduations of olden times, say like last year, included such things as large gatherings of family and friends to celebrate what should be one of the happiest days in a graduate’s life, many high school and college seniors were robbed of that face to face celebration. In many cases, the graduating seniors were also robbed of the last two months of in person school, and all of the activities that go along with that, as school were forced to transition to remote learning.

As part of the move to remote activities, schools have gotten creative in how they honor their graduates. In Texas, one principal drove to the house of each of the graduating seniors to deliver the diploma directly to the graduate. Some NASCAR tracks even opened up to allow socially distanced graduation ceremonies with graduates spaced six feet apart on the track.

Texas Motor Speedway, shown here back when the world was open, hosted socially distanced high school graduations for the class of 2020 during the time of COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

Other schools went forward with their usual graduation plans, albeit with fewer people allowed in the audience to witness the pomp and circumstance, and to hear the commencement address.

Several television networks even banded together and aired a celebrity filled graduation ceremony to help usher the graduating Class of 2020 into their new socially distanced, unsure what the future holds, massive unemployment, and massive student debt lives.

Although it is the season for commencement addresses, for some reason no one asked me to give a speech to any graduating classes this year. Of course, truth be told, that has been the case for many years, but that is certainly not for lack of trying on my part. I guess schools thought that Tom Hanks, and Barrack Obama were better choices. While I cannot argue with that, I did hold out hope that this would be the year that I got the call.

Ever since my high school graduation I have thought that it would be nice to help send a graduating class off into uncharted waters armed with my words of wisdom and encouragement.

Commencement speakers hold a special place in the memories of graduates and I have wanted to add my name to that fraternity of memorable speakers.

My high school and college graduation ceremonies were both held in a smaller building behind the one pictured. I did take pictures with my family after both ceremonies outside on what would now be considered center court of the new arena.
Photo R. Anderson

Why I remember my commencement speaker in college just like it was yesterday. I mean, I remember what he looked like, and some of what he said. I am sure if I dug up my commencement program I could even find his name.

So, I wanted to be that person that students look back on with fond memories of inspirational words.

During my career working at a college I attended many graduations. I served as the official photographer for several of them. I even attended graduations inside a state prison which I must say is a rather interesting occurrence, as one might expect. Still despite my waiting in the bullpen to step up if the speaker had to cancel for illness, or inability to fit into their cap and gown, my number was never called.

In the event that my number was called, I envision a typical conversation of people reflecting on those inspirational words going something like this.

Chad: Boy, that was such a good speech that old what’s his name gave at our graduation.

Tad: We had a speaker at our graduation?

Okay, so the commencement speaker is not remembered by everyone. I think part of that has to do with graduation caps cutting off blood flow to the brain. I have no proof of this, but it is a pretty logical explanation if you ask me.

Still, despite the short-term memories of graduates, I thought for sure that this would be the year that I would get the call to share my insights with graduating seniors. I mean I could zoom right in, give a little speech, and zoom right out. I wouldn’t even have to wear pants under my gown.

As a side note, to this day, not being able to wear shorts under my gown when I graduated both high school and college in Florida still doesn’t make any sense. I mean gowns are not made out of the most breathable fabrics and some of those speakers can just go on and on. But I digress, now, where was I?

Oh yes, despite my willingness to throw a gown on over my shorts, alas the phone did not ring, and I was left with a speech and no audience to hear it.

Across the world, the Class of 2020 has seen many traditional in person milestones like a large graduation ceremony on the 50-yard line of a football stadium transformed into remote experiences thanks to COVID-19.
Graphic R. Anderson

No worries though, I will just share a version of my remarks dedicated for pomp and circumstance here. Of course, this is the abridged non honorary degree conferring version. I need to leave something out just in case I get called to the big time. Oh, and please excuse the parenthetical notes in my rough draft.

So, without further ado here goes:

Students you are to be commended for your efforts in reaching this momentous occasion of (high school, college, preschool, clown school) graduation.

Looking out at all of your caps and gowns I am reminded how silly people look in caps and gowns. I mean seriously who came up with the idea of dressing up like Supreme Court justices as a way to commemorate graduation? But, at least unlike Supreme Court Justices, you only have to wear those things once.

This day marks the end of one chapter of your life and the beginning of another chapter. Albeit a scary journey into the unknown. But I am sure you will figure it out, if not we have another graduating class coming next year. (wait for laughter from audience, and delete this from future speeches if no one laughs)

Now is the time of your lives where you can have experiences that will last a lifetime. (Or at least last until the big asteroid comes and destroys us. Mental note, whatever you do, do not mention the asteroid. These graduates have been through enough without putting the fear of Bruce Willis in an orange jumpsuit into them. Mental note part two, did you see that Bruce Willis still fits in his jumpsuit from that movie that foretold of Armageddon, what was that movie called again?)

Don’t be afraid to step out on limbs occasionally and try new things. While the limbs will sometimes break, they will usually just bend.
Photo R. Anderson

Don’t be afraid to step out on limbs occasionally and try new things. While the limbs will sometimes break, they will usually just bend. (Except if the limbs are hit by an asteroid, I mean that sucker is just going to destroy everything in its path, just ask the dinosaurs. Oh, that’s right, the dinosaurs are gone because of a giant asteroid so they aren’t around to ask. Dude, seriously, enough about asteroids, focus.)

Never say, “I’ll never go to Graduate School, so it doesn’t matter what my GPA is.” Graduate School shows up when you least expect it, and yes, they do care about grade point average.

So, hats off to the graduating class of (insert year and school name).

In conclusion remember that life is a highway, and you want to ride it all night long. No wait, those are the lyrics to a really bad song.

Let me try again. Life is like a box of chocolates…no that isn’t quite right either. (I bet they would have laughed if Tom Hanks had said that line.)

In closing, I definitely do not envy the Class of 2020, and the new world that you are facing. Of course, it is out of this very adversity that great things can come. So, try new things, and get creative. Remember that your social distancing, and wearing of masks, saves your life, and the life of those around you. Take time to take care of yourselves, and each other. And no matter how dark the skies appear, remember that this will pass. (Unless the skies are darkened because a giant asteroid is heading our way.)

Think of it as your chance to usher in an enlightened Coronaissance. Whatever you do, do not think of those student loan payments that will start rolling in six months from now and blindside you like an asteroid hurtling down from the heavens.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check in on my sourdough starter. I named him Doughy.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Editor’s note: No actual asteroids hurtling towards earth were observed during the writing of this column.

Dear Baseball, I Hope This Column Finds You Well in These Uncertain Times

Dear Baseball, it is me Ryan.

I know it has been a while since we have seen each other at the Ballpark. These are definitely crazy times. I hope you are doing well.

I have been thinking a lot about the fun we used to have together back before the world was turned upside down by that uninvited party crasher COVID-19.

Remember that time my mom had me called out of class in elementary school so I could see you in a Spring Training game between the Minnesota Twins and the Baltimore Orioles for my birthday? The entire time I was walking to the exit of the school I thought for sure that someone in my family had died. Imagine my relief when I learned that everyone was alive and well, and I was getting to spend an afternoon at the Ballpark with you.

One of my best baseball memories was getting Earl Weaver’s autograph at Tinker Field.
Photo R. Anderson

Another memory that makes me smile, is that time you gave me the opportunity to meet Earl Weaver on the third base side of Tinker Field. I was definitely start struck at meeting a man I considered to be larger than life, but I was relieved to learn that he was fairly down to earth, and was not just the fiery dirt kicking, base throwing manager I had seen on TV.

Baseball, you have not yet afforded me the opportunity to meet Cal Ripken, Jr., but I guess I will let that one slide since you did give me such good memories following his career during “The Streak” and beyond.

Sadly, not all of my encounters with the men who played you were as encouraging as meeting “The Earl of Baltimore.” Through my attempt to meet Frank Robinson, you taught me the valuable lesson that not everyone who wears your uniform is a hero to be looked up to.

While it is entirely possible that the outcome would have been different on another day, my attempt to meet Frank Robinson soured my opinion of the man, and taught me a valuable lesson in the dangers of heroes letting you down.
Photo R. Anderson

It was a hard lesson for me to learn at the time, but it has helped me separate talent for the game from being a hero off the field. It is possible to respect what a player can do on the field without expecting them to be perfect off the field.

There are of course players who shine both on the field and off, but you let me see that those people are exceptions to treasure, versus the rule.

My joy in you was not limited to just being in the Ballpark. I spent hours collecting your cards and trying to compile complete sets of them each year. I kept checklists in my wallet to know which cards I needed whenever I would find myself at a card shop. I even tried my hand a running a small card shop in my neighborhood for my friends. Grandstand Cards was my first business venture, but it was far from my last.

Every Saturday I rode my bike to the neighborhood 7-11 for powdered doughnuts, a Sunny-D, some baseball cards, and a comic book. Those were much simpler times. While I cherished those days at the time, I cherish them even more now.

I still have those cards, as well as the team scrapbooks that I made for the Orlando Sun Rays and the Baltimore Orioles. Each time I pull them off the shelf the memories return, and I am transported back to those days of going to the local baseball card shop, and sitting in those well-worn grandstands at Tinker Field.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

While my three seasons of attempting to play you did not lead to All-Star numbers, you taught me that I could make a career out of telling your story through the various news outlets I worked for.

You even gave me the opportunity to have a full-ride scholarship as a collegiate baseball team manager, which a younger me turned down to go to a different school. It all worked out in the end, and to this day I can still legitimately say that I turned down a full-ride baseball scholarship. I just leave out the part about it not being as a player.

Then there was that 21-inning high school playoff game that I covered as a high school reporter at the old Baseball City Stadium. Man, I sure learned my lesson that night about not leaving the warmth of the press box before the final out. I spent 12 extra innings freezing behind the dugout while my colleagues mocked me from their warm perch.

Despite that unseasonably cold Florida night, and all the other nights shivering in your stands, you taught me that one of life’s simple pleasures is sitting in your Ballparks and getting caught up in the action. You also taught me to never write the lead to an article while the game is still going on, since very few leads are safe once teams are forced to go to the bullpen.

I also learned from you, Baseball, that whenever possible, get a seat in the Ballpark next to the scouts. The times I have been seated in the scout section at Spring Training and Minor League games, I have been entertained by hours of stories of baseball behind the curtains. Sadly, scouts are a dying breed as more and more of your teams are taking a strictly statistical look at how you are played, versus relying on gut feel.

Very little tops a day at the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Baseball, you have given me the chance to interview many coaches and players. Some of them gave thoughtful answers, while others allowed me to play cliché bingo.

One manager even trusted me enough to write my own quotes for what I thought he would say. To keep it real, I even included some clichés in his quotes. At the end of the season of covering his team, he invited me into his office and said that he had never sounded better than he did when I “quoted him.”

I have thought a lot lately about those post-game interviews under the unforgiving Florida and Texas sun, as well as the interview in the rain that killed my recorder right after I transcribed the quotes. On that day Baseball, you taught me to never rely solely on a recorder, but to write down quotes in real time as well.

Just when I think that you have run out of things to teach me, Baseball, you give me new lessons through this delay in the action brought about by COVID-19. Through the virus you have taught me that player strikes are not the only thing that can cause the games to stop, and that we should not take you for granted when you do return.

More importantly, Baseball, you have reminded us that there are more important things than you, and your other sport siblings. Taking care of ourselves and others is far more important, no matter how badly we want to throw caution to the wind and cram inside your hallowed halls and watch you “play ball” once again.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock when the Sugar Land Skeeters and other teams implemented it as part of a test with Major League Baseball..
Photo R. Anderson

When you do return, Baseball, either this year, or next year, some people will no doubt continue to complain that your games are too long, that pitchers need to not take so long between pitches, and that umpires need a robotic voice in their head telling them how to call balls and strikes.

Ignore those people, Baseball, and try to resist the calls to constantly tinker with your game. Part of what makes you perfect are your perfect imperfections, and the fact that there is no game clock to say when the game ends.

Baseball, you will come back stronger, and will once again fill those summer nights with the sights, sounds and smells, of the National Pastime.

Hang in there Baseball, I know we will see each other again soon when it is safe to do so. Until then, thanks for the memories you have given me so far, and thanks in advance for the memories yet to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this trip down memory lane has me craving some powdered doughnuts and Sunny-D.

Sincerely yours,

Ryan

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Remembering our Heroes (Past and Present) on Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. I say that with confidence after checking a calendar to confirm my suspicions. Normally, I would have no trouble at all remembering that the last Monday of May is set aside as a day of remembrance, and a time to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

However, in this newfound time when one day can just roll into the next and be called MonTueWedday, it never hurts to check a calendar for guidance as society charts new territory. This potential side effect of not knowing what day it is comes as much of the world is sheltering in place and honoring the calls to social distance as we unite as one in the battle against the COVID-19 virus which has killed nearly 100,000 Americans.

Large flags and camouflage hats mark Memorial Day across Major League Baseball each year.
Photo R. Anderson

In the past, Memorial Day weekend acted as the unofficial start to summer and involved packed beaches and an overabundance of sports to watch. The weekend also lent itself to copious amounts of meat to cook over an open flame.

While I enjoy baseball, beaches and barbecue, for me, the highlight of the extended Memorial Day weekend has always been as the announcer used to say “Sunday, Sunday Sunday.” I would awake before the sun to catch the Monaco Grand Prix, and then switch over to the Indianapolis 500 before ending my day of nonstop auto racing with the Coca Cola 600.

The times that I was not watching racing, I could catch numerous baseball games from coast to coast.

As a sign of unity during troubling times, the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the Air Force’s Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, flew over several U.S. cities to honor front line workers.
Photo R. Anderson

That all changed this year. Thanks to COIVD-19, the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 were not run Memorial Day weekend.

The Coca Cola 600 did take place yesterday, but the stands were empty of the thousands of fans who usually soak in the action. Additionally, there is no joy in Mudville since baseball is still sidelined by the virus.

The NHL and the NBA suspended their seasons in March with no set timetable on when they will return to action. There will be increased drum beats in the coming weeks for sports to return. Leagues are hemorrhaging money and will want to try to recoup as much revenue as they can.

Owners will say that they are doing it for the fans, but many surveys have noted that a lot of sports fans will not feel comfortable heading to an event for a while. Athletes are also becoming more vocal in their opposition to returning to play until they can be assured that it is safe to do so.

So, it is on this Memorial Day that instead of rooting for one’s favorite team, the world has a common enemy to unite behind. The world is at its best when it works together, and there has perhaps been no greater battle than the one it currently finds itself in. Millions of Americans are working from home, alongside children who are learning from home.

Millions more Americans have lost their jobs and are questioning when things will return to the good old days known as before March 2020. It is entirely possible that the good old days as we knew them are years away from returning.

Veterans with underlying health conditions, and the Navajo Nation whose language was used as an unbreakable code in World War II are being hit especially hard by COVID-19, so it is fitting on this day of remembrance that we not only remember their sacrifice in time of war but that we pray for their safety in this battle against the virus.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was commissioned in 1921 as a memorial to veterans of World War I.
Photo R. Anderson

States are starting to ease restrictions on what people can do in an effort to spark the economy. There will no doubt be temptation to push the limits and go out and have as normal of a Memorial Day as possible, and just hope for the best in terms of avoiding infection from COVID-19.

Some politicians will call this the need for people to exercise pent up demand to get out and do normal things. Other politicians will call such actions reckless and an endangerment to others around them. Countries that have reopened early have seen their number of cases go up in some instances. There is no magic formula for deciding when to roll out a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

Throughout all of this, it is crucial to remember that the power resides with individuals to decide when they want to rejoin the economy. Just because something is open, it does not mean that people are forced to go there. COIVD-19 is a relentless scourge that takes no notice of a person’s sports affiliation, political leanings, or any other factors in its path of destruction.

Uncle Sam knew back in World War II that the world needed more moxie. While it may have been a soda slogan back then, today the need for moxie is stronger than ever as the world tries to fight a common public health enemy.
Photo R. Anderson

In past challenges that are remembered on Memorial Day, like World War II, citizens rallied to do all they could to defeat the common enemy.

My grandmother built battleships in Georgia, and my grandfather fought at Pearl Harbor, among other battle sites. My grandparents, and millions of other people’s grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters have done similar things when called to duty.

Memorial Day reminds us that Americans owe their freedom to the sacrifice made by countless individuals who came before us, and to the people who are currently serving in the armed forces. The sacrifice of those who came before us who we remember on Memorial Day made us who we are. Sacrifices people make now to contain the virus, is a gift we can leave for the generations that come after us.

The COVID-19 virus has shown us that a pair of scrubs, a retail vest, or an apron can be just as heroic as camo. Sports on Memorial Day will return, but this year on this day of remembrance instead of complaining about a lack of live sports, stop to think about the health care workers, the police officers, the fire fighters, the grocery store workers, the meat packers, the restaurant cooks, the warehouse fulfillment workers, the delivery drivers, and every other person across the globe who is doing their best to keep the world going.

Many of us are taught as kids that super heroes wear capes and masks. That is true, but the capes are invisible lest they get in the way of the work being done by the people on the front lines, and the masks are there to both protect the identify of the super hero, as well as to protect those around them. Lucky for us our modern day heroes are working on Memorial Day, and every other day keeping us safe from enemies seen and unseen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up some groceries curbside and thank some front line workers.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Building my Ballpark Bucket List for When the World is Open Once Again Part 2

As the world of sports continues to look into ways to safely return fans into their facilities thanks to the COVID-19 virus, sports fans are left to wait and wonder when they can return to their local Ballparks and Stadiums and raise their souvenir cups high.

Although I will not be able to see live sports any time soon, that does not mean that from the relative safety of my gigplex I cannot compile a Bucket List of the ballparks I want to visit once the green light is given to safely return to mass gatherings.

Since catching my first Major League Baseball game at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore I have visited a lot of Ballparks. There are still many more Ballparks I want to see.
Photo R. Anderson

My Bucket List of ballparks was already pretty extensive, but as I have had much time at home to contemplate, I have had the chance to add to it. For the purpose of this exercise I have selected a Top 10 list of Ballparks I want to see.

The list is broken up into five Ballparks that I want to visit again, and five Ballparks that I want to see for the first time. The Ballparks include facilities at the Major League level, the Minor League Level, as well as the Independent League level.

I unveiled the five Ballparks I want to see again in Part 1. Today, in Part 2, I unveil the five Ballparks that I have never visited, but in some cases, have wanted to see for years.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the main Ballpark on my Bucket List that I want to visit.
Photo R. Anderson

While there are many Ballparks that I want to visit, the one that has topped my list pretty much from the time it was built is Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. I was raised as a Baltimore Orioles fan, and saw my first Major League game at Memorial Stadium where the Orioles played prior to making the move to Camden Yards.

Once I moved to Florida, Spring Training meant trips to see the Orioles at Tinker Field, and later at Ed Smith Stadium. I have even seen the Orioles play regular season games against the Astros in Houston and against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

Still, the one venue that has eluded me is Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Ballpark started the movement for single use Ballparks, and includes a distinctive warehouse wall feature which the Astros mimicked when they built their new Ballpark at the site of the old Union Station. As soon as I am able, and the world gets a little more stability, I will board that big blue Boeing 737 nonstop from Houston to Baltimore to catch a game, enjoy an Esskay hotdog, and some crab cakes smothered in Old Bay. On a positive since the Orioles have struggled mightily the last few seasons, it is likely that the Ballpark will not be full which should allow me to really explore as I check it off of my Bucket List.

Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

Proximity to Space Coast Stadium allowed me the chance to see many Washington Nationals Spring Training games when I lived in Florida. However, I have yet to see the 2019 World Series Champions play at Nationals Park.
Photo R. Anderson

When I lived in Maryland, the Washington Senators had already fled to Texas to become the Rangers, after replacing the version of the Senators that fled to Minnesota to become the Twins.

Additionally, the Washington Nationals went by the name of the Montreal Expos, so the ability to catch a game at Nationals Park would have been rather difficult since neither the Ballpark, nor the team existed. But from the time that the Nationals arrived on the scene, I embraced them with the full vigor that one would for a long-lost friend.

My fandom of the Nationals was further entrenched after my mom reminded me one day that since we had lived closer to Washington D.C. than Baltimore, had the Nats existed when I lived in Maryland, I likely would have followed them instead of the Orioles, or I would have followed them both. When I lived in Florida the Nats had Spring Training less than an hour away from where I lived, which made catching games easy. Even after moving to Texas I continued to catch the Nats whenever I traveled to Florida for Spring Training.

When the Nats made their magical World Series run against the Houston Astros in 2019, I certainly got nasty looks as I wore my Nats gear proudly around the Houston suburbs but my fandom was well entrenched by then and as the song goes, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, and the trash can gonna bang, bang, bang.” So when I make the trip to Oriole Park, I will be sure to stay in town long enough to catch a game at Nationals Park as well while I am there.

Globe Life Field, Arlington, TX

The Texas Rangers traded in their quaint, furnace of a Ballpark for a retractable roof version next door. When the scoreboard says it is 108 degrees outside it will be nice to catch a game in air conditioned comfort.
Photo R. Anderson

The third Ballpark I want to visit for the first time is Globe Life Field, the new home of the Texas Rangers.

I attended games at Globe Life Park, which the Rangers previously called home, and left each game a few pounds lighter than when I went in based on the triple digit heat, and the general lack of air circulation within the lower bowl of the Ballpark.

The Rangers decided that their under 30-year old Ballpark was not conducive to the climate in the Dallas Metroplex and a retractable roof Ballpark was built next door. Globe Life Park briefly served as the home of the Dallas XFL team, but with the XFL gone Globe Life Park will be two teams short.

While some could argue that based on the hard to miss similarities between the design of Globe Life Field and Minute Maid Park, I have already seen the new facility, I still want to visit it. Whenever I do make it up to Arlington it will definitely be nice to experience a Rangers game for once without needing to bring a dry set of clothes for the drive home.

Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver, British Columbia

During my previous trip to Vancouver, British Columbia I had poutine in Stanley Park. During my next visit to Vancouver I hope to have poutine in the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

While the previous three ballparks on the list have all been on the Major League level, my fourth Bucket List Ballpark that I want to visit takes us north of the border, and also down to Class A in the Minor Leagues.

Nat Bailey Stadium, located smack dab in the center of Vancouver, British Columbia, is the home of the Vancouver Canadians, who are the Class A Toronto Blue Jays farm team. A few years back, I had the opportunity to catch a Vancouver Canucks hockey game in Vancouver. Catching a BC Lions CFL game in Vancouver is also on my Bucket List, so it is only natural that I would want to see baseball north of the border as well.

Taking my baseball fandom international will certainly be an experience to treasure. Of course, traveling all the way to Canada just to see a Minor League baseball game would likely be rather silly in the big picture. Good thing that there are many other items on the list for things to do on the trip besides the game. I just hope they serve poutine at the Ballpark. Something tells me that they do.

FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

The Washington Nationals have a Farm Team named the Harrisburg Senators who play on an island. As long as I don’t have to take a boat called the S.S. Minnow to get there count me in.
Photo R. Anderson

The final Ballpark on the list is FNB Field in Harrisburg, PA. FNB Field is the home field of the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A Minor League affiliate of the Washington Nationals,

The Ballpark has been on my Bucket List for several years based on a) it being a Washington Nationals farm team and b) it is located on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River. I mean, a Ballpark in the middle of a river. How cool is that?

I still have the program from my first Major League Baseball Game. between the Baltimore Orioles and the Milwaukee Brewers. It is one of many programs that I have collected through the years. In the years to come I look forward to collecting even more programs, ticket stubs, and souvenir cups as I travel around to various Ballparks.
Photo R. Anderson

If I plan really carefully, I can likely catch a game on the island during the same trip where I go see Oriole Park and Nationals Park. Three days of Esskay hot dogs, Old Bay lump blue crab cakes, and Utz cheese curls sounds pretty spectacular right about now.

Of course, visiting any Ballpark will be welcome once the all-clear is given on this terrible virus that has taken far too many lives, and forever impacted the lives that it hasn’t taken.

Stay safe. Stay smart, and I will see you at a Ballpark in the not too distant future. Until then, may your dreams involve Ballparks with all you can eat popcorn and unlimited soda refills.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check to see if we are still keeping track of the days of the week.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Building my Ballpark Bucket List for When the World is Open Once Again Part 1

For the past five years, I have traveled an average of one to two weeks a month. During this time, I saw a lot of hotel rooms, drove a lot of rental cars, and most impressively I mastered the art of snagging a coveted aisle seat close to the front of a completely full Southwest Airlines flight. On those rare occasions when the seat next to me on the flight was empty, I felt like I had won the lottery as I crisscrossed North America during the carefree days before COVID-19.

Over a five-year span I logged a lot of miles in blue planes just like this one.
Photo R. Anderson

Many of those trips involved visits to Ballparks and other sporting venues. I saw Major League games at Dodgers Stadium, Angels Stadium, Tropicana Field and Coors Field. I caught Minor League games in Colorado Springs and Port Charlotte, among other places.

For good measure, I even visited four hockey arenas. While Coolio sang of living in a “Gangsta’s Paradise,” I was truly spending most my time living in a sports fan paradise.

The era of the non-retractable roof Ballpark as fallen out of fashion in recent years. Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, is truly the last of its kind. Based on historically low attendance some might argue that the Trop was the first Ballpark to engage in social distancing.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, that carefree ability to cram into full arenas, full ballparks, and even full blue Boeing 737s, has been put on hold for the foreseeable future thanks to the COVID-19 virus.

Large gatherings of people at sporting events would be the perfect storm for community spread of the virus. So out of an abundance of caution, fans will not be allowed to congregate for a while once the sports world reopens.

I can totally respect that since, a) I really don’t feel like getting sick just so I can see a game in person, and b) drinking Dr Pepper with a straw through a hole in my officially licensed MLB face covering does not sound like fun.

Constellation Field in Sugar Land, TX has a scoreboard that reminds people what state they are in. This can be helpful for fans who become disoriented from the heat.
Photo R. Anderson

Although I will not be able to see live sports any time soon, that does not mean that from the relative safety of my gigaplex I cannot compile a Bucket List of the ballparks I want to visit once the green light is given to safely return to mass gatherings.

My Bucket list of Ballparks I wanted to visit was already pretty extensive. However, as I have had much time at home to contemplate, I have had the chance to add to it. For the purpose of this exercise I have selected a Top 10 list of Ballparks I want to see when the world reopens.

The list is broken up into five Ballparks that I want to visit again, and five Ballparks that I want to see for the first time. The Ballparks include facilities at the Major League level, the Minor League Level, as well as the Independent League level.

For the first installment of our series, I have chosen to look at the five Ballparks I want to see again. While I will always enjoy finding new Ballparks to visit, I also enjoy returning to some old favorites. The five Ballparks on this list are ones that I would visit for every game if I had the chance.

Constellation Field, Sugar Land, TX

A mascot with a water gun is the perfect combo for baseball in triple degree heat.
Photo R. Anderson

Located just a smidge too far away from the gigaplex for me to be a season ticket holder, Constellation Field plays home to the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

With reasonable prices on tickets, food, and souvenirs, a game inside Constellation Field won’t break most piggy banks. The action on the field is exciting, and the mid-inning promotions staff provides the usual Minor League Baseball standards to keep the fans entertained.

I do take issue with the team getting rid of the carousel in Center Field a few years ago, but aside from that, this little ballpark is pretty much perfect for catching a game. The Ballpark is in Texas so it does get hot during day games in the summer, but there are thankfully ways to stay cool including a splash pad and air conditioned areas.

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL

Though it is criticized by many, I find Tropicana Field to be a pleasant place to catch a game while also feeding some wildlife.
Photo R. Anderson

Tropicana Field gets a lot of flak from a lot of people. They complain about the location of the facility as well as the fact that it is one of the last of the multi use large domes that once dotted the sports landscape from coast to coast.

While domes in Houston, Seattle, and Minnesota have given way to single use baseball fields, courtesy of the Ballpark renaissance kicked off by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Tropicana Field stands as a reminder of what a certain era of Ballpark design looked like. While the Trop has haters, I actually like the Ballpark. It was one of the first facilities to allow people to bring in their own food and also offers an unlimited refill policy on soft drinks.

Paying tribute to the days when the Tampa Bay Rays were known as the Devil Rays, there is even a Ray touch and feeding tank in center field. Plus, it is hard to beat catching a game in air-conditioned comfort and staying dry during those hot and wet Florida summers that last from March to November.

Coors Field, Denver, CO

During my lone trip to Coors Field I hit a triple with a Pepsi, a hot dog, and a bobblehead.
Photo R. Anderson

Next up is Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. I have only had the pleasure of attending one game at this Ballpark. It was a day game during a Colorado heat wave and the vendors were selling equal amounts of beverages and sunscreen.

From what I could see through my sun screen irritated eyes, the Ballpark has a lot to offer. The game I attended included a bobblehead giveaway, as well as a race between people dressed up as the presidents on Mount Rushmore. Not too shabby.

Coors Field made the list, based on my desire to catch a night game at the Ballpark and to have time to explore more of the amenities without feeling like I was every bit of a mile closer to the surface of the sun.

Dr Pepper Ballpark, Frisco, TX

Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, TX is a great venue to catch a game, just try to avoid day games in August.
Photo R. Anderson

Dr Pepper Ballpark is home of the Frisco Rough Riders, who are the Double A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. It has been several years since I made the drive up to the Ballpark located in a suburb of Dallas, but it is a drive well rough making.

The Ballpark features bullpens that are surrounded by seats so fans can really get a close look at the pitchers warming up. The facility also includes a lazy river and a pool, which is perfect for the sweltering heat that the Dallas Metroplex is famous for.

One major plus of Dr Pepper Ballpark, is the availability to have a cold and refreshing Dr Pepper. I am sure there are people who do not mind Pibb Xtra, but for me it has to be Dr Pepper. With the headquarters for Dr Pepper being located next door in Plano, TX, I feel pretty confident that the Ballpark will keep serving Dr Pepper for years to come.

Blue Wahoos Stadium, Pensacola, FL

Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium is a true gem among Ballparks and has a waterfront view that can often include spotting the Blue Angels returning from an Air Show.
Photo R. Anderson

Blue Wahoos Stadium is home to the Blue Wahoos, a Class Double A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The Ballpark is one of my favorites for many reasons. The location right on the bay is hard to beat.

The concessions are top notch. The Ballpark itself is beautiful and has been named best ballpark in the country by numerous outlets, including being a three-time recipient of the Southern League Ballpark of the Year award. The Ballpark is the smallest facility in the Southern League and this creates an intimate fan experience.

I try to visit Pensacola as often as I can. When the world reopens, and it is safe to move about the country once again, Pensacola will be one of the first trips that I make. Southern League Baseball has always been my favorite league since catching Orlando Sun Rays games with my mom at Tinker Field in Orlando. The Blue Wahoos allow me to keep that tradition alive once every other year or so.

These five Ballparks are definitely places I would go to again and again. There are other Ballparks that I could have included as well on my list of places I love catching a game at. Be sure to return Friday when I will reveal the five venues that I want to visit for the first time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about Ballparks has me craving a hot dog and some nachos.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

NASCAR Provides First Look at What the Return of Sports Could Look Like as Other Sports Sit Impatiently in Neutral

Brad Keselowski started on the pole on May 17, 2020 when NASCAR returned to live racing after a nearly two month hiatus.
photo R. Anderson

When the history books are written to describe the era of COVID-19, it is likely that yesterday, May 17, 2020, will be remembered as the day that sports returned to America.

Okay, to be fair, all sports did not return yesterday. Declaring the “all clear, come and play ball y’all” is likely months away from occurring. Factor in a return to wide open, stadium rockin’ sports as they were prior to March 2020, and some experts say that could be a year or more away.

Still, yesterday will be remembered as the day that NASCAR told their drivers to start their engines, and the fans to stay home and watch. It is easy to see how NASCAR was the first sport to draw up a game plan for a return to competition.

Kyle Busch is set to run seven races in 11 days in all three NASCAR series as part of the sport’s return to live competition.
photo R. Anderson

Drivers sit alone in their 3,000 plus pound octane 93 fueled chariots. So, even during rubbing and bump draftin’, social distancing can be maintained.

Throw in helmets, and protective gear for the pit crew members, and you have yourself a ready-made example of responsible sport in the COVID-19 era. At least that is how the plan is supposed to work.

While social distancing works in NASCAR, other sports leagues will find it harder to show that the athletes are separated by the recommended Center for Diseases Control (CDC) guidelines of six feet of separation. The next sport on the clock to try to return a fan-free viewing experience to the world is Major League Baseball.

Baseball has already returned in South Korea where the season opened in empty ballparks, followed by ballparks allowing up to 1,000 fans to attend from a safe social distance.

It is hard to imagine a scenario where Major League Baseball says the first 1,000 people to the ballpark are allowed inside. It is safer to say, that the only people sitting in the stands for the foreseeable future whenever baseball does return will be team employees.

While no exact timeline has been established for the return of baseball, when it does return it is likely that the pregame lineup exchange at home plate will be eliminated.
photo R. Anderson

I have said this before, and it bears repeating, I miss baseball. However, I do not miss baseball to the point that I want to see players, umpires, and other team personnel put at undue risk of exposure to a virus that currently has no cure just so I can have a few hours of live sports during my work from home time.

Blake Snell, the 2018 Cy Young Award-Winning pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, made waves when he commented on his Twitch channel last week that playing an abbreviated baseball season with a pay cut was not worth the risk to his health for future seasons. Based on estimates of the proposals being negotiated between MLB management and the player’s union, Snell would earn around $2.3 million instead of $7 million in salary for playing what would amount to at best an 82-game season.

To be fair, athletes risk injury every time they take the field. However, one can certainly argue that risking your pitching arm and needing to miss a season because you are recovering from Tommy John surgery is entirely different than risking your health because of a virus.

Snell’s candid assessment of needing to look at his life after this season, versus playing this year and risking his health, drew the usual round of negative comments with people calling him “entitled,” and that he should just “shut up and play.”

After Blake Snell drew criticism for voicing concerns about returning to play baseball, fellow All-Star Bryce Harper noted that Snell made public feelings that many players are pondering in private in regards to the risk of playing baseball too soon to their long-term health.
photo R. Anderson

A pair of All-Stars, in Bryce Harper and Nolan Arenado, came to Snell’s defense by noting that Snell went public with what many players are thinking in private related to needing to look long and hard at the risks associated with returning to play baseball this year.

As part of a return to the ballpark plan reported by ESPN, players and all other people involved in the games would be tested for the COVID-19 virus several times a week to allow any potential outbreak to be snuffed out at the source. Under the plan to mitigate the spread of the virus , according to the ESPN report, players, would also be banned by fist bumping, high fiving, and spitting.

However, it is unknown whether players will still be allowed to bang on trash cans in the dugout. Too soon Astros fans?

MLB is targeting a return to play in early July. It is highly likely that the return will feature fireworks and other festive celebrations as the “Boys of Summer” play the National Pastime once more. Any return to play scenario needs to allow players to choose whether they want to return, or if they are willing to forfeit their salary in order to focus on their health for future seasons.

MLB is targeting a return to play in early July. It is highly likely that the return will feature fireworks and other festive celebrations as the “Boys of Summer” play ball once more.
photo R. Anderson

Assuming that MLB does the right thing and allows players to choose to sit out the season, that creates the question of why not just wait until next year to play at all.

Can an 82-game season with some of the top players on each team choosing to not play really be considered legitimate?

Of course, the answer, as it usually does, centers on money. Even without fans in the stands team owners and broadcast networks can make money on games.

Another footnote in the year of COVID-19 history book should not only include the day live major sports returned with NASCAR, but should also include the day that the MLB potentially chose finances over safety. Of course, that financial risk versus personal risk calculus is being performed across the globe as multiple industries look to reopen in the middle of a pandemic.

Millionaire baseball players aren’t the only ones who will need to perform a risk trade when it comes to returning to work. Employers at all levels need to be sensitive to the concerns raised by workers, and where possible accommodations need to be made to protect both their health and their jobs.

I miss going to see Swatson and the rest of the Sugar Land Skeeters. I look forward to a time when I am once again watching them from inside the ballpark.
photo R. Anderson

I am eternally grateful to the men and women working at the grocery store who bring my order out to my car and allow me the opportunity to stay safely socially distanced. Too often, some elements of society look down on workers in retail, transportation, healthcare and hospitality.

Society owes a huge debt to all of the people on the front lines. When the pandemic is over, the people who kept us safe, fed, and tended to health-wise, should be the first ones allowed inside the sporting venues as a show of thanks from a grateful nation.

Until then, sports leagues need to temper their enthusiasm for returning to play. We all miss sports. However, it would just take the death of one player to show that the risk was not worth it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my work from home fury coworkers are meowing for some kibble.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Flashback Friday: Remembering Tinker Field Five Years After the Grandstands were Felled by Progress

Editor’s Note: Today we travel back in time five years to May 6, 2015 when the grandstands and support buildings at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL were transformed into a Ballpark graveyard.

After receiving a one year stay of execution, the appeals process for a historic ballpark in Orlando, FL. ran out last week and the grandstands of Tinker Field began to crumble in the name of progress.

Think of almost any baseball player from the 20th Century and odds are pretty good that they stepped foot on the infield grass of Tinker Field at one time or another.

For several years one of the highlights of my birthday was seeing Cal Ripken, Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles play at Tinker Field. Photo R. Anderson

For several years one of the highlights of my birthday was seeing Cal Ripken, Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles play at Tinker Field.
Photo R. Anderson

From Spring Training for Major League Baseball, to full seasons of Minor League Baseball, the quaint little ballpark in the shadow of the Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium) was a unique venue where a who’s who of baseball players played from 1923 to 1999.

The last professional affiliated baseball at Tinker Field occurred in 1999 with the Orlando Rays who were the Double-A farm team for the Tampa Bay Rays. Although the Orlando Rays were the last of the Southern League teams to call Tinker Field home, they certainly weren’t the only ones.

The Orlando Twins, Orlando Cubs and Orlando Sun Rays were among the many teams to call Tinker Field home.

The Orlando Juice of the Senior Professional Baseball Association (SPBA) even spent a season playing on the hallowed field in the shadow of the Citrus Bowl.

This ticket stub allowed me entrance to Tinker Field where I ended up meeting one of my favorite baseball figures Earl Weaver outside the third base dugout. Photo R. Anderson

This ticket stub allowed me entrance to Tinker Field where I ended up meeting one of my favorite baseball figures Earl Weaver outside the third base dugout.
Photo R. Anderson

Eventually it was the shadowy neighbor looming over right field that signed Tinker Field’s death warrant.

While time and neglect certainly played a role in the demise of the nearly century old facility, it was a massive expansion of the Citrus Bowl that hastened the demise of Tinker Field.

The expansion of concourses crept into right field to the point that Tinker Field could no longer function as a professional baseball field due to an outfield depth that would make a Little Leaguer feel like Barry Bonds sending everything they hit over the fence.

Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida. Photo R. Anderson

Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida.
Photo R. Anderson

So, despite being declared a national historic site, the demolition of Tinker Field is in full swing with the goal of removing every trace of grandstand, bleacher and dugout before a June Rolling Stones concert takes place at the Citrus Bowl.

Of course, while I can’t get no satisfaction in the fact that the stands where I spent summer nights of my youth will soon be reduced to dust, I can take some solace in the fact that the actual playing field will be saved as a small nod to the history that occurred there.

There is also some solace in the fact that many of the seats from Tinker Field were removed and will be sold to fans for use in their dens and Florida rooms.

Still, despite saving some seats and the clay and grass part of Tinker Field, it will not really be Tinker Field anymore without the stands which once echoed with the sounds of the crack of the bats, cheering fans, and the Caribbean accented shouts of a peanut vendor who looked an awful lot like O.J. Simpson.

Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida. Of the three lost Ballparks the loss of Tinker Field hits the hardest as it is the one where I made the most baseball memories.

Tinker Field was where I first was able to see a live Spring Training baseball game on my birthday, which is a tradition I still try to maintain each year.

Tinker Field was where I met and spoke with the late Earl Weaver on the third base line when he was managing the Gold Coast Suns in the SPBA.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark. Photo R. Anderson

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Tinker Field was also where I saw the Clown Prince of Baseball himself, Max Patkin, perform his shtick on a sunny Florida day.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.

During our trips to Tinker Field my mom and I were often joined for a few innings by team president, Pat Williams, who was also the General Manager of the Orlando Magic at the time, and I used to think how cool it would be to be a team executive getting paid to watch baseball.

I have yet to fully realize that dream of spending all of my summer nights as a Minor League Baseball employee but I may yet before all is said and done and when I do it will be because of those nights at Tinker Field.

I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World’s Wide World of Sports Complex. It was easier to sell everything at a discount instead of moving it to the new facility.

I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap. To this day I am amazed that the employee correctly guessed my hat size just by looking at me. I am also amazed that in the years since my head has grown to the point where I can no longer comfortably wear the fitted wool cap.

I don’t know what happened to that vendor but I like to think he lived out his remaining years comfortably after his days at the ballpark were over randomly telling people on the street how big their heads were.

I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World. I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap that I treasure to this day. Photo R. Anderson

I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World. I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap that I treasure to this day.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orlando Rays’ time at Walt Disney World was short lived and the team moved to Montgomery, Alabama and became known as the Biscuits.

To this day there are still no Minor League Baseball teams in Orlando making the decision to tear down Tinker Field an easier pill to swallow for some.

Others point to the peeling paint and overworked plumbing as reasons that it is best to raze the ballpark instead of spending money to preserve it and bring it up to current code.

In Houston people are dealing with a similar potential loss of a treasured sports fixture as the pending demolition of the Astrodome seems all but certain.

Recently fans were allowed inside the Astrodome as part of its 50th birthday celebration. The long term fate of the so called “eighth wonder of the world” is unknown. Like Tinker Field the Astrodome last hosted professional baseball in 1999.

With each year that passes it seems more and more likely that the Astrodome will also fall victim to a wrecking ball despite its historical significance.

The loss of the physical building, while difficult, does not take away the memories that occurred in those facilities.

Just as I am sure that there are people with fond memories of whichever Ballpark they grew up with, I can close my eyes and still picture Tinker Field the way I remember it right down to the tennis ball throwing peanut vendor, and the sounds of the rattling ceiling fans that tried their best to cool fans on those humid Florida nights.

I prefer to think of Tinker Field like it was, and not like the neglected facility it became. The wheel of progress is always turning and sometimes it brings a bulldozer with it to raze the buildings of our youth.

Ticket stubs like this one from a Spring Training game at Baseball City Stadium, and memories are all that are left from the three Ballparks from my youth that have been torn down. Photo R. Anderson

Ticket stubs like this one from a Spring Training game at Baseball City Stadium, and memories, are all that are left from the three Ballparks from my youth that have been torn down.
Photo R. Anderson

I guess the morale of the story is to treasure your brick and mortar Ballparks while you can while building up memories that can last long after the Ballparks are gone.

Or as Simon and Garfunkel would say, “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Ballpark memories to preserve.

Footnote: Thinking back on Tinker Field five years after it was torn down, and 21 years after I last visited it, reminded me of the late John Prine’s song “Souvenirs” in which he sang, “I hate graveyards and old pawn shops, for they always bring me tears. I can’t forgive the way they rob me, of my childhood souvenirs.” RIP Tinker Field, and RIP John Prine. You will both be missed, but as long as I am able I shall cherish my childhood souvenirs.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

COVID-19 puts the Sports World in an Extended Timeout

The world of professional baseball has been dark since March. Discussions are underway to return players to the ballparks in a shortened, fan-free season. Photo R. Anderson

Thanks to the arrival of the COVID-19 virus, for many people right now it feels like up is down, and down is up. The virus has also introduced new terms like, social distancing and contact tracing into our vocabularies. As part of its destructive path into everyday life COVID-19 has caused the world of sports to grind to a halt as player and fan safety was given the proper level of respect.

The COVID-19 outbreak tested leagues in a way that many sports had never experienced. Social distancing requirements, as well as limits on crowd size, led to the cancellations of the XFL, NBA, NHL and almost all other sports leagues. On April 10, 2020 the XFL announced it had suspended operations indefinitely and laid off all league employees due in part to financial losses as a result of COVID-19.

The Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo were delayed by at least a year. All NCAA spring sports tournaments, including the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments were cancelled. Major League Baseball ended Spring Training early, and delayed the start of the season. The leagues that continued to hold competitions did so without fans in attendance as they tried to balance social responsibility with the public’s appetite for live sports.

With most major sports leagues shutdown due to COVID-19, sports fans looked for any port in the storm to quench their thirst for live competition. The American Cornhole League provided many fans with just such an outlet.
Photo R. Anderson

Before going any further, it is important to note that shutting down mass gatherings, like sporting events, was the right call.

One need only look at the amount of cases that spread out from a convention in Boston to know how quickly the virus can spread to know that mass gatherings are simply not prudent at this juncture. Even with social distancing, the number of cases, and the number of fatalities continue to rise. Were sports allowed to continue in full stadiums and arenas, there is little doubt that the case and death count would be much higher.

It should also be said that the inconvenience of not having live sports to watch is trivial compared to the real effects of COVID-19 that many people are facing across the world through losses of jobs and in extreme cases losses of loved ones.

Although the major sporting leagues have been shutdown for nearly two months, there are rumblings building to resume sports, albeit in empty stadiums without fans. NASCAR, which kept fans entertained through simulated races, is set to resume racing in empty tracks on May 17, 2020. Five years after the first game in Major League Baseball history was played in Baltimore without fans, MLB is negotiating with the player’s union to try to gain approval to host a truncated 82 game season in empty ballparks starting in July.

NASCAR is set to resume racing without fans in attendance on May 17, 2020. Time will tell whether the fans return for the Daytona 500 in February at Daytona International Speedway.
Photo R. Anderson

All of these efforts to resume sports without fans show a desire for the governing bodies of the respected sports to explore any and all means for the show to go on. This effort to resume is driven in large part so the leagues can recoup some sort of financial payday.

While a return to live sports on television, even sports without fans, would be welcomed by many, one has to ask whether leagues risk diminishing the product by forcing reduced schedules on fans and trying to call it a full season. Should a World Series Champion that only played an 82-game regular season be considered as talented as teams of the past who prevailed over the course of a season that was twice as long?

Additionally, as part of any discussion on the resumption of live sports one must also ask whether players are being put at undue risk by being asked to travel from city to city, and potential virus hot spot to hot spot, just so the show can go on in some form or fashion.

To be clear, like most sports fans, I miss being able to unwind at the end of the day by watching a game on television. However, I am not sure that I miss live sports enough that I am willing to support putting my favorite athletes potentially at risk of catching, or spreading, a virus that currently has no cure just so they can bring me a few hours of entertainment.

As professional sports look at ways to resume during the era of COVID-19 one has to wonder how exactly a football huddle with social distancing would look.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from needing to address player safety as part of any path to resumed competition, leagues must also consider that airing games without fans leagues may hasten the trend of people choosing to watch games from the comfort of home versus battling thousands of people to get to a seat so far from the field that they are basically watching the game on the big screen anyway. Sure, the made for TV sports are better with screaming fans, but there is something to be said for watching at home where the snacks and the bathrooms are both a lot easier to get to.

With NASCAR and MLB looking to get their seasons going, the eyes of the world of sports turn their focus to football. Even if one accepts the prospect of empty football stadiums, it is hard to fathom how players could be in the trenches on the gridiron and not risk exposure to COVID-19.

Exactly how does one huddle with six-feet of separation? Even a scenario where players are wearing masks does not seem feasible. It is hard to think that a wide receiver can run full speed down the sideline wearing a N-95 mask under his face mask. The only possible solution would be to equip all player helmets with a clear shield that covers their mouth and nose, but even that is a stretch.

College Football is one of the sports on the bubble for a return based on a NCAA position on the need for students to be on campus before sports can resume.
Photo R. Anderson

College sports face their own hurdles for resuming in the fall. The NCAA has said that sports will not resume unless on campus classes have also resumed. The implication being that if the college is not deemed safe enough for students to be on, then the athletes should not be expected to have to play there.

There is too much money involved in college football to think that a work around of some sort will not be found to play games if the COVID-19 virus is still running rampant across the country come August. The topic of College Bowl Games and the College Football Playoffs is another issue that is bound to get a lot of attention in the coming months based on the millions of dollars at stake.

It is entirely possible that the sports landscape will never return to the levels that it was at before the world of sports was shut down by COVID-19. By adopting an attitude that everyone is in this together, those most impacted by the global timeout in sport can better weather the storm. It is crucial to keep in mind that the current situation is also only temporary.

Perhaps James Earl Jones’ character Terence Mann in the movie Field of Dreams said it best when he said “People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Yes, baseball and other sports will resume at some point, and people will indeed come. How many people are allowed to come over the next few years based on social distancing remains to be seen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some masked competitive cornhole to watch on the Ocho followed by some lawnmower racing.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson