John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: August, 2019

Walk-off Home Run

Don’t you sometimes wonder where new expressions originate? Most often they seem to arrive on “winds of change” which I’d wager is exactly one of those expressions. The title of Sebastian Jager’s book, The Perfect Storm, first published in 1997 was co-opted by the media to include political, economic, military, etc. crises. I suspect Mr. Jager found this to be a curious expansion of a phrase he intended to explain what happened to a Grand Banks fishing boat that ventured out at precisely the same time as three separate vicious weather systems joined together to form a monster of a storm.

The expression wasn’t even recognized in 1998 the year after Mr. Jager first published his book and I suspect he lifted it from the maritime / fishing industry where it was used as a term of art. Today it is also defined as: “A particular or critical state of affairs arising from a number of negatives and unpredictable factors.”

Likewise, writers, reporters, columnists and talking heads ran away with the phrase Jager used in his book to describe when a fishing boat became unseaworthy: “tipping point.” Again, these scribes and broadcasters ran wild with tipping point using it to identify the exact moment when the sh*t hit the fan for a political, economic, racial problem, etc. or incident.

The origin of walk-off home run eluded me for a long time. I believe that I first heard this expression on ESPN which may or may not be true. In any event, once it was first adopted, it spread like wildfire. By the time I caught on to it, walk-off had become part of our everyday sports-talk.

Finally, a piece by Victor Mather appeared in The New York Times Sports Section this summer explaining its origin. Curiously, Mr. Mather first wrote this piece October of 2017?

 “Walk-off home run” was originally coined by Dennis Eckersley to describe the pitcher’s reaction to a game-ending home run that the batter hit so hard that the man on the mound knew instantaneously the baseball was going to land deep into the outfield seats. No sense turning around to see where the ball was going, none what-so-ever – just walk off the mound, cross the infield, pass through the dugout and head for the tunnel leading to the locker room.

Eckersley first used the phrase as a broadcaster on NESN, the Red Sox network. Ironically, Eckersley, a Major League Baseball hall of famer was the pitcher who served up the famous pitch to the LA Dodgers Kirk Gibson in the bottom of the ninth inning of the 1988 World Series.

Gibson, who was injured came off the bench to pinch hit, clocked the ball into the stands. Gibson, a semi cripple chugged around the bases on his two damaged legs like an old steam locomotive heading for the barn: “I think I can, I think I can…”

Mr. Mather noted: “More than a decade ago, some were already sick of the term. In 2000 Sports Illustrated wrote, ‘Like crab grass invading someone’s lawn, walk-off has taken root in sports lingo and gotten out-of-control.”

After being universally applied to any game-ending home runs walk-off soon became applied to game-ending base hits as well such as walk-off singles, doubles and triples. Now it has spread to include walk-off double plays, walk-off walks, walk-off errors, walk-off hit by pitches and walk-off balks.

In Japan, the term is the more expressive “Sayonara home run” as sayonara has far more finality than goodbye.

If it were possible to re-wind the clock and limit the expression to Mr. Eckersley definition, walk-off home run would be palatable. Still, let’s rewind the clock back further to 1951 and Bobby Thomson’s dramatic home run that beat the Dodgers in the ninth inning of their final playoff game. I ask, “Would you prefer ‘Walk-off Home Run’ or ‘The Shot Heard Round the World?”            

“Field of Dreams”

Major League Baseball has announced that the Chicago White Sox will host the NY Yankees at a twilight game at the “Field of Dreams” site on August 13, 2020. MLB will build a new field nearby to the movie set, it being far too small to host a professional game. The so

called temporary ballpark will have 8,000 seats and the necessary facilities that today’s players, officials and fans expect. I suspect the temporary status will slip – slide away as other teams seek to enjoy the same experience; Cubs vs Cardinals, Reds vs Royals, etc. etc.

This was my experience there in 2011:

In May of 2011, Bill Christman, Mike Cruise, Don Markey and I made our second heartland baseball trip that took us from Minneapolis to St. Louis. Since we spent most of our drive passing through Iowa, I suggested that a stop in Dyersville was a must.

Spring was late arriving, not exactly baseball weather. We drove south out of Minneapolis in a steady rain. After traveling 112 miles we entered Iowa where soon we began heading east and southeast on state highways aiming for Waterloo, the home of the “Fighting Sullivan Brothers,” the John Deere factory and the Route 63 Diner.

I discovered the diner in the AAA guide and good reviews for it online. Bill and I tried brazened chicken, a specialty. The waitress tells us it’s lightly breaded roasted then fried. “That way it is crispy on the outside and moist inside.” She’s right, it is moist and good. Mike enjoys a chicken pot pie and chocolate cream pie and Don, a Reuben.

Then on to Dyersville, 56 miles further east on US-20, home of the set from the movie, Field of Dreams. We used Bill’s GPS to find it which was a good thing as there aren’t too many signs leading to its location. “Why Dyersville” can equally be countered with, “why not Dyersville?”

Dyersville is a typical Iowa farming community of modest family farms with homes, barns and other outbuildings prominently located on the property. After blinking through the actual town, we drove along a rural, well-maintained two-lane road that meanders through these family farms following the contour of the land. The GPS directed us to make a right turn and follow a smaller road for about a quarter of a mile then announced, “Destination on your right.”

The address was not our destination, but rather for the farm across the road. But never mind, there on the left, a short distance down a slope was another typical farm, but this one had a baseball diamond and a freshly mowed outfield cut into its corn field. A wire backstop protected the area behind home plate, small bleachers lined each baseline and steel poles supported the field lights on the borders of the infield and the outfield.  A small blue sign explained why this farm was selected for filming the movie and how the owner decided to preserve it.   

We were lucky, there was a break in the weather and the rain stopped for our visit. The set was so simple. No glitz or glamour, just the field, the poles and that ubiquitous white farmhouse and red barn surrounded by the fallow corn fields. The grass field was well tended, and, in a condition, I’d expect to find for a major league field. Even with all of today’s rain, both the infield dirt and the grass were without mud or puddles. Behind the outfield a line drawn along the ground clearly and neatly marked where the grass baseball field ball ended, and the corn field began. Looking out from home plate we had a panoramic view of several other family farms that rose behind the outfield. It was a wonderful sight allowing us to imagine how different it must look in August when the corn is as high “as an elephant’s eye.”

I couldn’t help but smile. The set was exactly what I pictured it to be when I first read W.P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel, Shoeless Joe reinforced, of course, by images from the 1989 film, Field of Dreams I understood why the producer chose this farm, so plain, so ordinary, so Iowa: Perfect!

Only a few visitors joined us on this dreary day allowing us to prevail upon a fellow tourist, a chap visiting from Dubuque, Iowa with his family to take our photo. We stood together in one of the two bleachers with a white fence and the farmhouse visible behind us. On a fence it simply said: “Field of Dreams.”

One last look and a stop in the souvenir store. I bought two hat pins containing lines from the book and the movie: “Go the distance.” and “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.” Too bad but “If you build it, he will come.” is not in stock.

Satisfied with our experience we continued to Davenport in a rainstorm that returned with such intensity to make tonight’s game between the Quad Cities Lumber Kings and the Wisconsin Timber rattlers a certain rain out. (Did you know, Bob and Ray that the quad cities are Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois.)

Instead, we enjoyed a superb meal at the City Bistro in Davenport. Bill ordered onion rings followed by apple grilled chicken. Mike, mussels and duck, Don, crab cakes and veal Oscar. I too ordered the crab cakes and the Captain’s rib eye steak. Portions were large and delicious and our drinks and wine, generous pours. We set the over / under at $500 but the check came in at an unbelievable $243. We didn’t scrimp on our tip and saluted our good fortune to have a rain out that evening.

On the Outside Looking in Will not appear next week and will return on August 28.   

Nags Head Vacation

It was during our family dinner on Sunday, July 14 that it hit me, “This beach vacation is as close as it comes to being perfect.”

Sunday was our first full day on the Outer Banks (OBX) our three families having driven down on Saturday from Fairfield, Connecticut, Brooklyn and Port Washington, New York. Advertised on Google as an 8-hour and 14- minute drive, it took over eleven hours.

Our son, Michael, his wife Jodie and Drew, Matt and Sammi arrived first in a driving thunderstorm just before six pm. Our daughter, Beth, her husband, Tom and Marlowe and Cace arrived about a half-hour later almost simultaneously with Mary Ann and me. Mike and his family watched quite a light show as numerous lightning bolts struck the ocean.

The storm added to the chaos of so many new arrivals that eating out was a non-starter and take-out was overwhelmed. Mary Ann, Beth and Jodie chose instead to hit the Food Lion, the local supermarket, for frozen pizza that was devoured by this tired and hungry crowd. We didn’t last long and split up into the five bedrooms on two floors.

We had first reserved the house more than a year earlier after I suggested that we make such a trip to celebrate my 75th birthday. Our five grandchildren ranged in age from 19 to 12 so a beach vacation seemed well-suited to our needs. I suggested OBX. Mary Ann and I made our first post-retirement road trip down the East Coast from Ocean City, Maryland to Savannah in the spring of 2000 and had enjoyed a pre-season stay there. My only demand was the house had to be on the beach with an unobstructed view of the ocean.

After a minimum of electronic searching, Beth found such a house through VRBO on the beach in South Nags Head. It was available for the week of July 13, 2019 at a price that wasn’t off-putting, so we booked it by making a 50% down payment.  (I chose not to buy the hurricane protection they recommended as the cost was too high and the house looked old enough to have weathered several storms. I rolled the dice and won.)

Strange as it may seem I am the only member of our family who is not a beach person. I burn, not tan, I hate the feel of suntan lotion, my face is sensitive to even special lotions, I don’t like the feel of bathing suits and I prefer to read in peace on such holidays. But I really enjoy being by the ocean and watching the world go by.

I spent part of Sunday on the beach and even went into the water twice. The ocean was pleasant both as to temperature and wave action. The house also came equipped with a small pool and hot tub. Since I never saw a pool boy or a hot tub boy nor did I see anyone ever test their cleanliness or balance, I considered them off limits for myself even though they looked pristine. I didn’t discourage others from using them (except when I told Matt (17) that it would make him sterile.)

On Sunday night we decided to dine at a café built on a pier located as Mike described it, “A seven-iron away from the house.”

We sat at adjacent tables, five grandchildren at one, six adults at the other. Jodie and I made the mistake of ordering margheritas without looking at the menu. We agreed they tasted different and seemed inordinately weak. Jodie asked the waiter who politely replied, “Our menu notes that we don’t have a spirits license and we make them with Saki instead of tequila.” Live and learn, while Jodie enjoyed hers enough to order a second from then on it was beer or wine for me at the Fish Head Café.

The food was good, the conversation better. Everybody was over the top about the house and in one day our stay was being voted best vacation, ever. It didn’t hurt that the house had excellent central air as it turned out a heat wave was about to envelope the Eastern Seaboard for the remainder of our stay.

Plans to rent jet skis, beach buggies or to go hang-gliding all seemed to evaporate under that heat and the OBX sun. I was involved in the two excursions. The first was with Beth and her son, Cace, to visit the sand dunes in Jockey Ridge State Park. The biggest dune is 90 to 100 feet tall, the highest on the East Coast. I decided my climbing days are over, I contentedly sat in the shade watching them climb to the top while instructors assembled four hang-gliders for that day’s class. We met the class on our way back to information. There were over two-dozen souls carrying helmets and harness vests heading for the dunes from their orientation class. All I could think was their standing around in the heat waiting for their turn. I hope it was worth it. 

Then, Mary Ann and I took Marlowe, Samantha and Cace 44 miles south for lunch and to visit the Cape Hatteras Light House. They climbed the 257 steps to the top while we waited in the shade. Later we presented them with certificates recording this feat.

I also participated in several minor adventures, one with Tom to bring home BBQ from Sooey’s, a big hit on Monday night, another with Mike to Brew Thru a drive-through distributor that specializes in beer, gear and wine. I also made a lunch run with Drew, Matt and Cace to Five Guys and picked up pizza with Mary Ann, Matt and Marlowe.

People did what they wanted to do. Jodie was the most prolific beach goer with Mary Ann, Tom and Beth distant runners-up. No one seemed bored and the week went by without even a minor blow-up.

The Briggs left a day early on Friday as Marlowe and Cace were off to a camp in New Hampshire that Sunday. The final two families departed between 7 and 7:30 am Saturday morning. Everyone reached home without incident ten plus hours later.

As an old friend once said: “Everybody was still talking to each other at the end, so we broke even.”