Groundhog’s Day

Okay, now that were on the same wavelength, welcome back! Happy Groundhog’s Day.

I woke up to these headlines in Google News this morning. In keeping with our Groundhog Day theme it could have easily been yesterday’s headlines and I’m guessing they will look similar tomorrow. It could be that I’ve done this to myself. I have shown interest in the past in what Congress is doing (or notably not doing..see top headline) and thus maybe Google, through it’s mind-bending ability to keep track of things I am interested in, is serving this up to just me…but I don’t think so.

A few things are notable here. First, nothing above the virtual fold is about anything other than what is taking place in Washington. Yes, there are links that will take you to news from other parts of the country or local news but the headlines still seem strikingly national and political. I worry that this is the America we live in today.

Second, the sources are remarkably consistent. CNN stories show up three times on this page and the others listed here show up very frequently on other days as well. Lest you think I’m about to take you down some deluded “liberal media” rathole, I will point out that Fox News shows up a lot here too. If you want conspiracy theories here’s a link to an online reincarnation of Weekly World News…enjoy.

But I do have a problem with this collection of sources and it lies in its uniformity. I first heard about Google News soon after it was launched and found the idea behind it to be endlessly intoxicating. Think about the possibilities if every newspaper around the world were indexed every day and searchable. You could read stories from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette or the Pittsburg Morning Sun – the former, by the way, is covering the events in nearby Punxsutawney today. If you wanted to see how current events were playing in Peoria vs Presque Isle you could do so all on one page and for awhile Google News seemed to work like that, but it seems less and less so today.

Finally, I will point out the strange necessity of having a Fact Check box at the bottom right of the Google News page. It seems laughable to think that anyone could believe that President Biden had lowered the Age of Consent to 8 but see above about the deluded American mind…I’m not laughing.

The thing is, Pittsburgh and Pittsburg and Peoria and Presque Isle and Pasadena and Pasco too are all still out there. In each of them today people are working away on this Tuesday trying to make their life and the lives of the people around them incrementally better. They are not wearing a political party on their sleeve and most of them aren’t calling each other names, they are just debating complex issues like how to come up with the right balance of property to sales to income tax to meet the needs of their communities.

In my darker moments I will confess to occasionally feeling hopeless about the direction our country seems to be going in. The events of January 6th broke my heart and I will not soon forget the experience of wondering what my 12-year old son was thinking as he watched his dad staring at the television with tears in his eyes. But then, my prevailing, perhaps also misguided, optimism kicks in. You see, I’ve been to all those places listed above and I like to believe they are more or less as I last left them; full of imperfect but honorable people that still believe in the land of Hopes and Dreams.

So, given that it’s Groundhog’s Day and Sonny & Cher are probably going to chime in again momentarily I’m going to take you back to the end of a post I wrote more than five-and-a-half years ago when I launched this site. Most of it was about my hope that by helping people reconnect with the U.S. House of Representatives I could somehow bring about a change in the polarization and gridlock that was plaguing Washington. I never imagined how much worse it could or was going to get; to think I could do something about it seems naive now. Mea Culpa.

But the end of the post was about a concept I tried out for awhile and liked writing but seemed to lack a connection to Congress. It was, in essence, a series of virtual tours of the country based on different topics. They were color coded, sort of like the pieces of the Trivial Pursuit pie mentioned in the post and each day I planned to continue the tour and highlight a different place on a different topic. If you are interested you can read more about what I had in mind then but, suffice it to say, I have decided to revisit that idea.

It seems to me, and it might be just me, that there is still a lot to celebrate about this country and a lot of real substantive discussion about how to make things better going on in towns and cities across it. So, for the next, however-long-I-feel-like-it, I’m going to pick up this idea again and profile a different place in each post with a focus on two things: something to celebrate about that place and some real discussion being had in right now in that place.

As you may have noticed, I have made the mistake in the past in this space of outlining grand plans for a series of hundreds of blog posts or podcasts or baseball videos only to pull the plug when I got discouraged or busy or just wanted to be doing something else. My apologies for those fits and starts but I’m afraid it is the way this mind works. However, I am not going to do that this time. Professional demands may soon change the amount of time I can spend on this. Even in Vermont, winter will eventually end and I will want to be outside more. Maybe even, we will all be able to travel safely a little more in the not-too-distant future. But for now I am excited about this series. I envision six “virtual trails”: History, Arts & Culture, Industry, The Great Outdoors, Restaurants & Food and Sports and will alternate posts between them. The “stops” on each trail will even be close enough that if someone wanted to actually follow them for awhile someday they could. We will begin with The History Trail – smack dab in the middle of the country. Look for the first stop in Atchison, Kansas later this week. In the meantime, it is good to be back….Happy Groundhog’s Day.

Back Where We Started

It has been more than three months since I posted anything on this site and almost eight since my last post about the state of American Politics; I hadn’t so much run out of things to say as I had run out of hope that anything I write might make a difference.

But as I sit in my office on a Tuesday morning looking for ways to pass the time until tonight I thought I would try to tie up a few loose ends on this blog. There might be more posts some day…maybe even tomorrow, but maybe this will be the last and I don’t want to leave this unsaid.

About six years ago I came across a report from the United Nations about an annual study and report they began doing in 1990 called the Human Development Index. The HDI looks at the relative performance of all the UN countries on three dimensions of human progress.

These are pretty straightforward things. If you were to create a game about the development of mankind and called it… Civilization, let’s say, these would be pretty closely related to the victory conditions: The ability of citizens to live a long and healthy life, to seek and gain knowledge and to have a decent standard of living (a roof over their heads and enough nourishing food to eat.) Mankind has been in search of these and trying to improve in these areas for thousands of years.

And yet, the report I had read suggested that the United States was not making much progress along these lines, at least in relation to the other countries on the planet. In 1990, when tracking the HDI began, the USA ranked second among the 189 UN nations studied…by the time I read the report in 2014 it had fallen to 9th and when the latest report came out last year the United States had dropped into a tie for 15th. These rankings were before COVID-19 but since the US has been hit harder by the Pandemic than any other country on this list the downward trend seems likely to continue when the next report comes out next year.

UN HDI Rankings 1990-Present

Two patterns emerge from looking at these rankings. The first is made even more obvious by the use of color, the USA has been dropping steadily for the last 30 years, across the terms of five Presidents. The other is more subtle; the rank of most other countries is relatively close to where it began which makes the precipitous decline in that of the United States even more puzzling. Why is the United States moving backward so rapidly down this list?

One thing should be pretty clear..this problem is larger than whoever sits in the White House and which party controls Congress. The five Presidents that have presided over this decline have come from across the political spectrum. Both the House and Senate have flipped multiple times between the two political parties over these 30 years and both parties have, briefly anyway, had control of the White House and both chambers. The only common denominator is political dysfunction.

I truly do not know what to write about this Presidential election. I have spent the better part of the last four years in this space trying to convince anyone that finds their way here that the 470 other races going on today….those for the House and Senate may be more consequential than Presidential Election. But our sitting President has certainly raised the stakes for me because his propensity for sowing the seeds of division seems to be coming at the worst possible time.

There is a lot of talk and bluster among politicians about “waves” at the polls today. Some folks want a “Blue Wave” that sweeps in Democrats, others hope for a “Red Wave” that does the same for the GOP. But I’m hoping for a Gray Wave. No, not oldsters, we have plenty of those, particularly at the top of the tickets. I want a wave of candidates and returning incumbents for the House and Senate that see more gray than black and white. “Winning” elections is something done by only the political parties themselves. The Democratic and Republican National Committees will win and lose races tonight, as will the candidates, of course. But the rest of us will just have to wait and see if we get what we’re paying for.

I haven’t been to all of them but I’ve traveled through the majority of our nation’s 435 Congressional Districts and they aren’t colored red or blue as you drive across the border. They are populated, mostly, by hard working good people that want similar things. I haven’t run across many that wouldn’t list some version of the three main outcomes in the Human Development Index near the top of the list of things they want for themselves and their descendants.

Yes, people have different ideas about how to get there but that’s what they are, ideas… no one more inherently valuable than the next until they are tried and measured. But way too many 2020 politicians have become fixated on resisting the other party’s ideas without offering any of their own. If I could wish for a silver lining to this decidedly crappy year it would be that when the 117th Congress convenes in January it might be with a renewed orientation toward measurable progress based on this absolute truth – Washington won’t work unless it works together.

I wish you and yours a contented election night and peaceful days ahead. Yes, the United States has many challenges but don’t buy the rhetoric: most of us want most of the same things and we can and will continue to use the power of our democratic system of government to try to achieve them…peacefully.

Closed to Restock

Luther Williams Field: Where the Excellent Adventure Began

This is going to be the last post for two weeks.

I’ve got a virtual conference next week to emcee. If you are interested in what I’ve been doing for my day job for the last 15 years, check it out.

After that the Craibs are taking a much-needed camping vacation here in Vermont, it will look a lot like this..

Photo Credit: Alistair Craib on the 2019 version of this trip

Ballpark History

The map above is a look at the communities that used to have affiliated professional baseball in 1991 and no longer do today. We will return with a renewed focus on getting the story of the ballparks of Minor League baseball told, not just with what we happened to capture on video in 1991, but also what we didn’t and to that end I’m going to be asking for your help.

There will be a new schedule of virtual visits promoted in advance when we start again in two weeks and my hope is that everyone who has a recollection of a ballpark will share their memories both on the YouTube channel and here on this Web site.

I think the great baseball writer Thomas Boswell once wrote there is no more seductive phrase in the English language than “Tell me your Story,” I hope he is right and that you will. If so, the “Bill & Sue” videos can be more of a conversation starter than just a snapshot of a moment in time.

The Low Mileage Tour Videos

The most recent Low Mileage Tour video is above but there are dozens more on the PFA 2020 YouTube channel, almost none of them have anything in the way of comments, if you have been to one of these parks, use the comment link below the video to share your memories.

On Deck

I have low expectations for the Major League Baseball season that begins tomorrow but that’s better, I guess, than no expectations. I hope, above all, that the players and their families stay safe but if they can do that and play some games, may they bring us some joy and excitement at a time we can surely all use it.

See you on August 5th.

EA Stop #114: Scranton (Moosic,) PA

Excellent Adventure Day # 103

Most of the work these days is going into the weekly video segment and the video from our stop at the home of the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons will be part of the Week 15 video coming up on Friday

I’ve been Lackawanna County Stadium in Moosix, PA twice, here are few images from both the Excellent Adventure and my later Extra Innings Tour in 2003.

The Trip

The Game

The Red Barons split a doubleheader with the Richmond Braves on the Saturday night we were there. They won the first game 3-1 and lost the nightcap 6-5.

The Gallery

On Deck

There were two stops on July 21, 1991, which was a Sunday that year. First we went to a day game in Williamsport, PA when that city was still in the Double-A Eastern League, then we went a night game in Elmira. NY.

LMT Week 14:

Toronto to Welland 7/9/91-7/15/91

In and Around the Lake

I’m not going to write a lot here, I’ve just made a video that runs almost 40 minutes to tell the story of Week 14 of “Bill & Sue’s Excellent Adventure.”

I would very much appreciate, however, either here on this Web site or on YouTube some comments about this new approach. I am happy with the way this new weekly video turned out and am anxious to hear what you think.

The Trip

The Video

There’s a lot here. Home runs from Hall of Famers, historic but not forgotten ballparks, Twister on the baseball field….even a Newhouse sighting.

On Deck

I didn’t get to the podcast this week but I’ve sent out some feelers for some people I think would be fascinating guests and I am still hoping to start them up again.

In the meantime, I’m planning to continue with a weekly video for awhile, look for the next one next Friday.

LMT Stops #55 & 56: St. Catharines, ON & Niagara Falls, NY

Excellent Adventure Day # 99

Beyond Baseball

29 years ago today I went for the first and only time in my life to see Niagara Falls. I remember it well and find that the video we took actually did it justice. I do not, however, remember a lot about either of the two games we went to that evening – the 109th and 110th of our trip.

We were camping, I think, at a campground in lovely Youngstown, New York, right on the shores of Lake Ontario and spent most of the day on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Then, we headed for Community Field in St. Catharines for the first of two games.

The Trip

The Games

If you ever have cause to look up St. Catharines, Ontario, it probably isn’t spelled the way you think. I had the darndest time trying to find a game story about the first of our two games that Tuesday evening until I realized I was spelling the city name wrong – there is an a not an e after the h. The Blue Jays played the Pittsfield Mets that night and ended up winning 7-2 after we left.

We got to Niagara Falls in about the 7th inning and, despite the fact that we had switched up our original schedule and decided to attend Welland after Hamilton the previous night instead of coming back over to Niagara Falls (see story image – Confusion Takes Over at Sal Maglie Stadium) the team was happy to see us and welcomed us on the stadium scoreboard. The Niagara Falls Rapids came from behind to beat the Watertown Pirates 7-5.

Sean Bergman, who won 39 games, mostly as a starter, in the Major Leagues was on that Rapids team that night but the shortstop in the lineup ended up having an intriguing story. While the fable of a player who gets just one at-bat in the majors is often romanticized, it is not particularly common statistically. But that’s exactly what happened with Rapids shortstop Kevin Morgan. Morgan made it up to the majors for just one game with the Mets in 1997 and popped out as a pinch hitter late in a 10-1 loss to the Red Sox. He also played two innings at third base and that was it for his major league career. The next season, though, Morgan began a 21-year career with the Mets in their player development department and just took a similar job with the Minnesota Twins last fall.

On Deck

The New York Penn League continues Friday with the Batavia Clippers, we’ll also have our first weekly highlights video…from Week 14 of “Bill & Sue’s Excellent Adventure.”

LMT Stops #53 & 54: Hamilton & Welland, ON

Excellent Adventure Day # 98

Short Timers in Southern Ontario

We headed back across the Canada border on a lovely Monday evening in Mid July for another two-park day on the Excellent Adventure…stops #107 and #108.

Both Hamilton, our first stop, and Welland, the second, were not long for the world of affiliated Minor League baseball after our visit. Hamilton moved after the 1992 season and Welland left after 1994. Oddly enough, Hamilton had moved from Erie, PA – our stop of the previous night in 1988 and Erie is where Welland moved when the Erie Sailors themselves moved to Dutchess County, New York.

The two parks were both pretty nice, however, and it was a lovely evening. You will get a look at Bernie Arbour Stadium and the Welland Sports Complex on this Friday’s Week #14 video.

The Trip

The Games

The home teams won both games that Monday night although we did not keep score at either of them because we would be leaving the first early and wouldn’t arrive at the second until well into the game.

Hamilton opened up a big early lead while we were there and went on to win 8-2. Outfielder John Mabry, who played with a number of teams over a 17-year Major League Career was playing right field that night and shows up in our video.

The second game was much more exciting, however. Infielder Tony Womack, who also went on to a long Major League career was on that Pirates team but it was an outfielder, Tony Mitchell, who stole the show. He hit a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the 9th to give the Pirates a walk-off come-from-behind 10-8 win over the Oneonta Yankees. Mitchell would get as high as a half season at Triple A in 1996 but never made it to the big leagues.

Some Links

Hamilton, Ontario had only a Short-Season Class-A baseball team for four years but the city is in the Major Leagues of Canadian football. The Hamilton Tiger Cats made it all the way to the Grey Cup last season but lost to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

If you have never heard of Welland, Ontario, this page on Wikipedia will help explain why there is a giant tanker ship on that Pirates 1991 program.

Just this week two ships apparently collided on the Welland Canal.

On Deck

Two more virtual stops tomorrow in the area around Buffalo. First, it’s St. Catherines, Ontario and then on to Niagara Falls, New York.

LMT Stop #52: Erie, PA

Excellent Adventure Day # 97

Sailing with the Tide

We didn’t know it at the time but the Erie Sailors were a team in a period of transition when we saw them in 1991, That season and the season before it the Sailors were, like a handful of other clubs, a “co-op” minor league team. These teams were mostly made up of players who either hadn’t been drafted out of college or had been but were then released. Most of the time these teams were not very successful on the field and the ’91 Sailors finished 37-41 that year, though the team did make the playoffs.

But the next year, everything changed in Erie. The expansion Florida Marlins needed a place for their first crop of draftees to play even before they started playing themselves the next year. Erie was chosen and for one summer, like Bend, Oregon where Sue and I wound up, the town got big league attention…check out some of the links below.

The team lasted just one more season in Erie, however and then the franchise relocated to Fishkill, New York where they continue to play as the Hudson Valley Renegades.

The Trip

The Game

Here are a few photos of the scorecard and rosters from that Sunday evening’s game between the Pittsfield Mets and the Erie Sailors. It was a wild game with the teams trading the lead all night until home runs in the 6th, 7th and 8th innings finally gave the Sailors the win.

Like many co-op teams, the Sailors were built to be try to be competitive at their level but not stocked with future major league talent. In fact, not a single member of the 1991 Erie Sailors ever got to the Major Leagues and only five of them got as far as Double-A. The most successful hitter on the Sailors was second baseman Rick Juday who had four hits the night we were there. The Michigan State product lasted just two more years in professional baseball, though, calling it quits in 2003.

The team’s best pitcher was the starter we saw, Mike Lynch, who got a shot with the Florida State League’s Winter Haven Red Sox the next season but left the game after that.

Some Links

Here’s an interesting story from the Miami Herald about the first team in the Miami Marlins history, which played in Erie the following year in 1992. Interestingly, the starting pitcher for the Erie Sailors in their first game was also named Lynch, but this time it was John Lynch who went on to become a longtime safety in the NFL and is now the GM of the San Francisco 49ers.

An even more interesting story comes from the South Florida Sun Sentinel during that historic 1992 season itself. Two cool tidbits to look for, one is the reference to a home run that was supposedly hit by Babe Ruth over the smokestack you will see in Friday’s video that includes Erie. The other references the GM of the Erie Sailors of that era, who also happened to be one my earliest employers when he managed a nightclub where I DJed in Syracuse in the early 80s.

Finally, perhaps you are interested in some early Erie Sailors.

On Deck

Tomorrow is the anniversary of another “Double Day” on the Excellent Adventure. We saw games in two Ontario cities that have long since lost their New York-Penn League teams, Hamilton and Welland.

I also want to clarify the new plan for the Low Mileage Tour I outlined yesterday. Each day, there will be some version of a daily recap like this one with a look at some of the baseball artifacts from the stop we made that day in 1991. The video, however, will be rolled into a weekly video that will feature all of our stops through Wednesday of each week and come out on Friday afternoon. A look at Ainsworth Field and the Erie Sailors will be part of this Friday’s video.

A New Approach on the LMT

Less is More

There are some changes coming to the Low Mileage Tour starting today. No, I’m not stopping, there is a story to tell here and I plan to keep telling it for as long as I can this summer and fall.

However, the analytics I get from YouTube make it seem pretty clear that my video output has outpaced the ability of even my most loyal subscribers to consume Low Mileage Tour videos.

I get it. It is summer time and if you are reading this post on the Low Mileage Tour site it is likely you are either a friend or a member of my family. I suspect a Venn Diagram intersection between people in this population and people who are huge fans of historic minor league ballparks is pretty small.

It’s also become clear that I am spending so much time producing these videos I have very little left to build a larger audience or do things like the Low Mileage Tour podcast, which I had been enjoying doing and produced some interesting content.

So, beginning this week I will be producing one Low Mileage Tour video per week and debuting it on Friday afternoon when it can be paired with your favorite libation of choice. Saturdays will be the launch day for a new podcast episode each week and every day starting tomorrow, there will be a very brief blog post here with a little about where we were that day and the game we saw.

Have a good Monday evening and…if you are itching for some Low Mileage Tour video…there are 54 of them right here!