"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

Focus of pride in Morris MN: our school! - morris mn

Focus of pride in Morris MN: our school! - morris mn
Our school in Morris is a hub of community activity and enrichment. (B.W. photo)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Why couldn't movie give Pedro Ramos his due?

The movie "61*" is one of the great all-time cinematic offerings about baseball. It was a labor of love by Billy Crystal.
The New York Yankees of the early 1960s gained fame beyond their sheer talent level. New York City was full of newspapers competing for stories. The teeming members of (my) boomer generation were getting fascinated by baseball, not to mention Cassius Clay.
Yes, the movie "61*" is a classic. There is a strange historical error though. Is it a "goof?" Movie summary websites often list "goofs." One of the Titanic movies had so many goofs, I didn't see the point in listing them. The review could have just stated that "the moviemakers took considerable artistic license with the facts." For example, there was no horn section in the music group on the big doomed boat! Well, who cares, I guess.
The movie "61*" depicts the opening day of 1961 at Yankee Stadium, NYC. A season was about to unfold that had Fargo's Roger Maris hitting 61 home runs, breaking Babe Ruth's record. Many middle-age fans at the time could remember seeing the Babe play, in person. Many did not accept this new guy, Maris, who seemed completely lacking in the kind of charisma that the Babe exuded. My generation, Billy Crystal included, decided to embrace Maris for the long run. He was "our guy." We loved Mickey Mantle too.
"61*" shows us opening day with the distinctive radio voices of the Yanks depicted: the steady Mel Allen and the eccentric Phil Rizzuto, the latter often inserting his daily trivial tidbits of life that were separate from baseball. Mel Allen goes around the diamond to recite the names of the iconic Yankee players of that time.
The Yankees were destined to have this period of dynasty end in the mid-1960s. It was our Twins who knocked the Yankees off their perch in 1965. In a short period of time, the Yankees went from being best in the American League to being totally pedestrian. In 1966 they finished last! They did so even with some familiar names left over, as if they were ghosts, from the dynastic days. It felt odd.
The Minnesota Twins were a new team in 1961. Let's apply an asterisk there, as these new Twins were actually the old Washington Senators. Minnesota gave this tired old franchise a chance to stretch its legs, taking advantage of better support and a better stadium. Our Twins played their 1961 opener at "The House that Ruth Built" in NYC.
The movie shows the Twins watching wide-eyed as Mickey Mantle steps into the cage for batting practice. At one point he signals to the pitcher that he's going from batting right-handed to left. Right-handed seemed more natural to Mick - he'd attack the ball as if he were wielding a tomahawk, whereas as a lefty he had more of an upper-cut swing. Mantle made his switch in the batting cage, whereupon the actor playing Yogi Berra said "look, he's 'ambidextrial.' " Elston Howard was bemused.
The memories of early 1960s baseball rushed to the fore as we consumed this scene in the movie. Maybe I got a little misty. Then the movie moves on to the April 11 game itself. The movie doesn't tell us the final score but it indicates the Yankees were struggling.
"Pascual with the pitch" we hear the Mel Allen character say. Pascual? Camilo Pascual? I'm one of those Twins fans who still remembers the original Twins well. I noticed that "Pascual" in the movie was dark-skinned in a way that he'd be characterized as black. He was Cuban. But the real Camilo Pascual was rather light-skinned.
But here's the biggest problem: Camilo Pascual was not the Twins' opening day pitcher in 1961! I understand how moviemakers take artistic license. But why was there a need to present Pascual as our historic (first-ever) opening day pitcher when in fact it was Pedro Ramos? Yes, it was "The Cuban Cowboy" Ramos who pitched and in fact humiliated Mantle, Maris and the other Yankees. My goodness, Ramos pitched a complete game shutout in a 6-0 Twins victory! So why doesn't he get acknowledged properly in the movie "61*?" Beats me.
Is it based on Pascual being better-remembered than Ramos? Pascual ended up having more impact with the Twins. But it's such a long-ago time. Most young fans of today are probably unfamiliar with either of those early names.
 
A mainstay for original Twins
Pedro Ramos was a very interesting player who had a 15-year career beginning in 1955. He was an American League All-Star in 1959. He led the A.L. in losses four times, in 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1961. He lost 20 games for our inaugural edition of the Twins in 1961. Is this a huge black mark? Well, not necessarily. I have read that you have to be a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games, really.
Ramos was a Yankee in the closing stages of the 1964 season, the team's last (for that time period) as kingpin in the A.L. He was in fact a sensation for the Bronx Bombers in the pennant drive of '64. He was traded from the Indians to the Yankees for $75,000 and two players to be named later. Ramos worked out of the bullpen in the Yankees' stretch drive. He saved eight games and posted a 1.25 earned run average in 13 appearances, during a stretch when New York needed all the help they could get. They barely held off the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles.
In 21 innings, Ramos struck out 21 batters and, amazingly, walked none. But because the trade happened after August 31, Ramos was not eligible to pitch in the World Series. The Yanks were edged by the Cardinals in seven games in the Fall Classic. Take away two errors by the normally slick-fielding Bobby Richardson, the second baseman, and the Yankees could well have won.
In 1960, Ramos made history by being part of an "all-Cuban triple play." It happened at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. in the Senators' last season there, before coming to Minnesota. The Senators were playing the Kansas City Athletics (the future Oakland A's). The date was July 23. In the top of the third inning, Whitey Herzog came to bat for K.C. There's a full count. Jerry Lumpe - remember him? - was on first base and Bill Tuttle at second. Herzog hit a liner to Ramos. Ramos whirled and threw to first baseman Julio Becquer. Lumpe was doubled up for out No. 2. Becquer fired the ball to second base where the shortstop, Jose Valdivielso, tripled up the slow-of-foot Tuttle. An all-Cuban triple play!
Calvin Griffith's franchise was known to be very accommodating for Cuban talent. Jim Kaat joked that the "TC" on the Twins caps stood for "twenty Cubans."
Ramos was held back for most of his career playing for inferior teams with inferior defense. He definitely made his mark, though. His outstanding shutout performance in the Twins' first-ever game, at the hallowed Yankee Stadium, ought to elevate him higher in the Twins' historic pantheon than where he is.
- Brian Willliams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, July 25, 2016

Wonderful to see kids getting higher grades

The honor rolls at MAHS seem so different from when I was young. Let me emphasize that the new way is so much better. Young people should be made to feel as though knowledge is accessible. How accessible can it be, when only three or so students in a grade make the 'A' honor roll?
I remember the very exclusive status of the 'A' honor roll when I was a kid. It was something that most of us assumed we could never attain. The three kids on the honor roll were from families with strong academic connections. It was an "elite."
Getting grades lower than 'A' would seem to indicate you didn't fully master the subject matter. Were so many kids really incapable of grasping the subject matter? Was education some sort of draconian racket? I have suggested previously that the Cold War explained much about the grim complexion of our schools. We had to browbeat kids to try to get them to learn. No one perceived school as fun. I think the end of the Cold War unleashed some thinking that had a real liberating effect. School can be fun to a degree. It should be enriching and uplifting in all its aspects.
It makes no sense for people to have kids with the belief that the K-12 educational process is going to be arduous. We have kids because we want them to enjoy life. Any kid with a reasonably good attitude should find those 'A' grades within reach.
How was this transition accomplished, from the Cold War era discomfort of learning, to our new, more relaxed and more uplifting model? I'm quite certain the teachers needed guiding along. I'm sure there were formal sessions and consultations getting teachers to adjust, to be more gentle. I had a co-worker in the 1990s who said of the teachers: "I think they're working for me." She had gotten her child excused from an assignment where he'd have to get up in front of the class and tell about an embarrassing experience. She was afraid her son might get teased.
Imagine, imposing yourself to protect your kid from a possibly humiliating experience in school. The parents of my generation would not be inclined to do such a thing. Our parents had been in World War II, after all, and were conditioned to respect authority. They were much more inclined to respect government and government-sponsored education. After all, it was the big apparatus of government that enabled us to win WWII. Organizations like the VFW and Legion always felt our public schools needed such vigorous support. David Brooks has written about "the redundancies of the World War II type of organization." Today in our tech-conscious world, the opposite attitude prevails: let's get rid of all redundancies.
The old clunky, monopolistic model of Cold War public education has been pushed aside. Open enrollment and home schooling have provided needed competition. But mostly, it is our new tech-fueled world and the democratization of knowledge with the Internet, that have opened the door for enlightenment. And, toward a new type of experience for our young people in schools. They can actually look forward to school.
When I was a kid and weather forced cancellation of a school day, we'd all be tuned in to the radio, of course, and KMRS would play a song that began with "That's what happiness is."
Why were we subjecting kids to an experience - education - that was unpleasant and left them dangling shy of 'A' grades so much? The teachers must not have been very good, if so few 'A' grades were given, right?
Technology now spares us from having to deal with so many of the old impediments in life. I read recently about the trend away from church-going in American life. The author, probing for background, said "dirty jobs" prevailed in the old days, and people in such grim jobs needed guidance from a pastor who surely was better-educated than most of his congregation. That old template has faded away. We needn't defer so much to an educated/refined pastor, when we have been uplifted so much, in large part because of our digital assets. I did this reading on a "Done with church" website. You should check it out.
I suspect that not all public school teachers have made the desired adjustment seamlessly. Some, I'm sure, have had to be dragged along. If I may be cynical for a moment, let me suggest rather strongly that teachers had a selfish reason for making their school classes draconian. It was to try to emphasize their own importance. If learning is perceived as hard, it's easier for teachers to argue how indispensable they are (and to argue for continuing big pay raises of course).
If learning is more routine and even enjoyable, teachers would seem less essential to the process.
Teachers don't seem to have the persecution complex they once did. The union empowerment of teachers that emerged in the early 1980s was one of the ugliest things I have ever seen. Union-generated conflict tends to be very dispiriting. I am a progressive in my political views but am also anti-union, just based on observations made early in my adult life. Too much enmity.
A certain segment of our public school teachers became consumed with union objectives. They departed from reality. Their personalities became permanently affected. I would also suggest some didn't survive. Right here in Morris, in fact, but I don't wish to name names. I'll speak in generalities.
It may seem like I'm going out on a limb, but I'll also suggest that the torment this community experienced in the late 1980s, centered on our school, was a part of the broader adjustment process with our priorities and attitudes. It is important that we not forget what happened then.
Where to start? Well, there was a time when many people in so-called academia sniffed at sports/extracurricular, as if it was some sort of necessary evil. So when people complained about sports, regardless of the reasons for doing so, those academics would sniff at the critics, suggesting those souls were mere Neanderthals, upset only because the "gladiators" of a particular sport weren't generating enough glory for the school or community.
But here's what was happening: the old gladiatorial model for prep sports, as presented in the movie "Hoosiers," was giving way to a more enlightened model that the pointy-headed academics wouldn't need to feel ashamed of.
I remember when Sam Schuman was chancellor at UMM, an actual formal study was done of students to learn their sports background. I interpreted that study as follows: it was a shot across the bow of the old, tired intellectuals who didn't really respect athletics. "You'd better adjust and clean up your thinking." In our new age, it isn't as if athletics has some grand transcendent purpose with our kids, but it is a wholly respected part of the whole of the school experience, calling for respect.
I think some teachers had to be dragged along to the new attitude, possibly with some intense reprimands. Behind closed doors of course.
The controversy of the late 1980s in Morris was very unfortunate. The more time goes on, the more I'm inclined to blame the superintendent. An upstanding citizen at the time said to me re. the superintendent and his relationship with the critics (or insurgents): "Oh, he'd never get in with them." This statement spoke volumes. People felt the superintendent would never go out of his way to address extracurricular issues, because of course extracurricular was rather like the red-haired stepchild in education. We put up with it but were not really proud of it. So everyone just shut up.
But the public did in fact keep pushing, just like that mother I quoted who said of the teachers "I think they're working for me."
Change in society can be slow and labored. The public eventually got what it wanted. Our teams still don't win as much as we want them to - can we get a basketball team to Southwest State for the post-season again? - but the system seems healthy and well-oiled.
I was in high school when girls athletics was just getting established. It's amazing to think that just a few years earlier, "girls need not apply" for athletics. We take it for granted today. And we expect lots of kids to make those honor rolls.
The Cold War, RIP. It's easier to feel optimistic having kids. Amen and hallelujah.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwillyh73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A "pitch count" for Minnesota prep baseball?

Radio discussion
I got to listen to WCCO Radio recently due to an out-of-town trip we made. It was a challenging trip because we had to avoid Highway 59 North. Word of road construction. I learned that to get to the Interstate, you don't have to go all the way to Alexandria. Just keep going north from Lowry and you'll reach it. How could you not reach it, if you're going north?
Anyway, we'll look forward to when we can again use Highway 59 North, a very pleasant route that goes through small towns.
I would use the word "topical" to describe WCCO Radio today. The on-air people don't project an air of celebrity anymore. Not like in the old days of Boone and Erickson, Franklin Hobbs and of course Steve Cannon (with his "characters"). Today's media strive to give the audience valuable content, not shallow patter.
We listened to 'CCO on a day when the proposed high school "pitch count" for baseball was a topic. I had heard a little about this. It seemed like an extension of our whole society's drift toward perfectionism. Seat belt use was voluntary for most of my adult life. We knew there were drunk drivers out there and we hardly cared. We laughed about excess alcohol consumption.
Today we are incessantly bearing down to eliminate all of life's risks. In a sense this is fine - we want people to be safe and healthy - but as libertarians would constantly remind us, every time we allow more government regulation of our behavior, we give up a little freedom. We can also create a mess with the sheer pressures that regulation can impose.
The proposed pitch count for Minnesota high school baseball reflects what has been happening at higher levels of the sport. It's an absolute sea change from what we once observed at the highest levels of baseball. In the '60s I watched as many well-known pitchers flamed out, their arms finished from overuse. Mind you, the overuse may not have just happened at the pro level. Many of these guys, once they realized they could be athletic stars with their pitching arm, did great damage from overuse when young.
The pitchers really stand out in Little League. You can be a local hero pitching no-hitters in Little League. I'll bet all men can remember a superstar pitcher or two from the Little League in which they played. I remember Brian Henjum here in Morris. And Dan Long.
The major leagues have become so enlightened about the pitch count, a guy might get removed from a game even though he has a no-hitter going. That's a blessing. 
  
How exactly would system work?
But is the pitch count really practical for high school ball? It would seem to be a cumbersome requirement. The High School League hasn't seemed to answer the question of how it would be administered. Who keeps the count for a given team? And, what if the system breaks down? One snafu that occurred to me is: What if someone accidentally re-sets the counter back to zero during a game? It could just be a matter of pressing the wrong button. What if a team decides to count pitches for the opposing team, and then a discrepancy occurs which could well happen? How would the dispute be resolved?
Why do we need such rigid rules? Can't we trust coaches, give them the proper education and then let them take care of their athletes? At present there are rules that only deal with number of innings pitched in a timespan. Of course, the number of pitches thrown in an inning can vary greatly.
The proposed pitch count rule prompts so many questions and issues, it seems problematic just from that standpoint. Small schools that lack pitching depth will be greatly challenged.
The discussion I heard on 'CCO brought to light a reason why such new rigorous rules are needed. As is typically the case, money figures in. What? How could money be a factor? The gentleman interviewed on the radio explained that the so-called "Tommy John surgery" is becoming common across the U.S. for youth pitchers. I learned something there. I associated such surgery with the pros. Insurance companies are picking up the tab for such surgeries with costs eventually passed on to parents, I assume.
Truth be told, many new regulations are due to insurance company lobbying, right? Republican politicians are always decrying new regulations. They appeal to their base that way. But realistically, so many regulations are deemed advisable by the insurance industry, and I really don't think that Republicans want to diss the insurance industry. Seat belts save lives, I guess. However, ambitious medical procedures - surgery - to simply address young pitchers' arms would seem an unnecessary thing. Why are we asking our kids to play a sport that ravages young arms in the first place? And let's not even get into football.
The radio guest mentioned the trend of so many more athletes specializing in a particular sport, as opposed to the old model of football/basketball/baseball for so many boys. If a guy specializes in baseball and is a pitcher, he is easily susceptible to over-throwing. Whitey Herzog once wrote that a pitcher injures his arm every time he makes a pitch.
Our sports were developed long ago when sports medicine sensitivity was nil. Is that the underlying problem? We are flooded with news about the dangers of football. I will be flabbergasted this coming fall if there is no discernible dropoff in participation in football.
In spring, many early-season games can be postponed. That is a depressing aspect of high school baseball and softball. Track and field often has indoor meets in fieldhouses early in the season. I might suggest that track and field take over as the only spring sport. There is something for everyone in track and field. A big burly guy can throw the shot put. The small and wispy kids can run the 1600 and 3200.
Baseball is challenged at the youth level. We read about parks in the Twin Cities that are being re-configured with baseball diamonds being erased. The big league All-Star Game gets a lower TV rating every year. Kids in Little League can look so ungainly trying to play baseball. Soccer seems so vastly preferable.
In the winter we have wrestling which seems such an odd sport: it has hardly any intrinsic entertainment value for viewing. The worst part is that the wrestlers face this terrible temptation to lose weight. The late Wally Behm, our old high school principal, had skepticism for this reason. Yours truly finds it depressing how losers of bouts in wrestling seem so humiliated, on their back and struggling in vain. Who would want to see their son experience that? I have heard losing wrestlers described as "fish." Disgusting. Many wrestling duals have too many forfeits. 
  
Girls have it made, really
So, is it time to re-think all the sports offerings for our kids? There was a time when girls were excluded from high school varsity sports. I joked with Jim Thoreen about how girls sports were limited to the "G.A.A." page in the high school yearbook. Jim talked about how at his alma mater, the G.A.A. girls would put on a halftime exhibition of tumbling!
How ironic that today, after all the strides made in girls sports, one additional dividend for girls is that their athletic activity is much safer than for boys. No football. No wrestling with its weight loss and humiliation for losers. Fast-pitch softball does not have the arm overuse issues that baseball has. My goodness, girls have it made!
In my case, I had no talent for team sports, thus my body and brain got preserved.
The proposed pitch count rule for baseball will get a vote in October. I predict it will not pass. Implementation of the rule would be too problematic. I would suggest this: let's have boys play slow-pitch softball in the spring. I think our Athletic Director Mark Ekren would be approving. Let's have boys play soccer in the fall instead of football.
But it won't happen. We'll probably see the usual number of boys out for football, maybe with only a negligible drop-off, bashing their heads and abusing their bodies out on the football field. We are so human an animal.
Don't we all miss Steve Cannon sometimes?
"Where's Morgan Mundane?"
"He's playing pool."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, July 16, 2016

CW regarding Joe Pepitone is just speculation

Any study of the 1960s New York Yankees requires some focus on Joe Pepitone. It is hard developing sympathetic views of this first baseman. There is very strong conventional wisdom (CW) about Joe Pepitone, that he couldn't live up to his potential because of personality and behavior issues. The argument is that distractions held him back.
Perhaps it's true. We can be so simplistic in how we characterize these people who ply their craft in such a fishbowl. How many of us can relate to that? It is easy to start over-emphasizing the peccadilloes. When a player seems to be underachieving, we grasp at explanations that might have something to do with the guy's character. We don't treat them like real human beings.
If Pepitone's limitations were so severe, why did he manage such a long big league career in the first place? Any talk of a peccadillo or human failing invites exaggeration. It is very demanding to be a major league baseball player. Pepitone arguably had some very fine years. The Yankees traded "Moose" Skowron in order to install "Joe Pep" at first base.
Pepitone was a master of the defensive phase of the game. I know this because his APBA card (a simulation game) gave him the highest rating for first basemen. Our Minnesota Twins had a first baseman in that mold: Rich Reese. Reese carved out a special niche as a non-superstar player: he hit three pinch-hit grand slams, and he had one season, 1969, in which he played as a superstar. If only he could have spread out that quality.
Pepitone and Reese both threw lefthanded, considered an asset for a first baseman.
 
He's a subject in "Ball Four"
Jim Bouton in his seminal baseball book "Ball Four," a new and revolutionary approach to sports journalism, abruptly inserted this sentence: "I like Joe Pepitone." Anyone who read "Ball Four" in its entirety knew that Bouton did not like Joe Pepitone. Bouton saw Pepitone as vain, shallow and annoying. He accused "Joe Pep" of exaggerating the severity of an injury so he could ultimately stand up with assistance, gamely, and hear the applause of the crowd.
Bouton was a thinker. Baseball historically felt threatened by thinkers. Thinkers might suggest that players needed more leverage with their careers. If Bouton had not given us Ball Four, some other player would have come forward very soon and done it. The publishing business would have seen to that. The best evaluation of Ball Four from a player that I have ever read, was the following: "I think Ball Four was a great book, but what if he was your roommate?"
Bouton was just too rapier-like with his observations. When Bouton wrote "I like Joe Pepitone," it was just posturing so as not to seem overly negative, IMHO.
 
Question marks from early-on
Pepitone was a Brooklyn native. In high school he was shot in the stomach in a schoolyard dispute. A Yankees official, at the time Pepitone signed on, feared that this otherwise fine prospect would be either stabbed in an alley or committed to a mental institution. Highly talented people often live close to the edge. Pepitone spent his whole signing bonus on a fancy car and motorboat.
Far from ending up in a mental institution, he worked through the Yankees farm system, finally arriving with the big club in 1962. He backed up Skowron for a time. Pepitone impressed in his first full season, hitting 27 home runs, driving in 89 runs and batting .271. He was chosen an American League All-Star. Such numbers aren't what we would associate with a flaky derelict. Yet the stereotype grew.
He hit 28 home runs in 1964 which was the last season of the Yankees' dynasty of that era. He drove in a hundred runs in that season playing under Yogi Berra. Again he was an All-Star. Pepitone was truly at his apex in the '63 and '64 campaigns, not only because of the team's success and his own contributions, but because he was a teammate of Mickey Mantle when Mick was still in his prime.
Pepitone was fashion-conscious at a time when males in America felt they had to wear their clothes tight-fitting, lest you be dismissed as a slide rule-carrying "nerd." A very odd outlook on fashion, I might observe. Very dated. "Pepi" also thought it cool to wear his hair long. As Bouton noted in his book, Pepitone brought a hair dryer into the clubhouse. He had two toupees, one for general use and the other that he called his "game piece."
Pepitone had his lifestyle quirks but the team was winning. That changed in 1965 when our Minnesota Twins picked up the torch from the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees fell to sixth place in the A.L. Pepitone's play reflected the demise of the dynasty: he batted just .247. In '66 he looked rejuvenated to a degree as he hit 31 home runs. He won his second straight Gold Glove award at first base. You don't win the Gold Glove as a flaky derelict. Pepitone had talent and he unquestionably showed it. Talk of that lifestyle or personality quirks were perhaps a way to just explain why everything was going to hell.
In '66 the Yankees descended all the way to last place in the ten-team American League. Attendance at the games absolutely evaporated. A search for scapegoats? Such is human nature. The Twins could have used a defensive first baseman like Pepitone, to be sure. We would have taken his 25-30 home runs too.
Pepitone moved to the outfield in order to let Mantle play first base. Mantle needed relief from the rigors of playing outfield. In '69 Pepitone returned to first upon Mantle's retirement. He socked 27 home runs in '69. It was getting harder to overlook Pepi's off-the-field distractions, so he was dealt to Houston where he wasn't likely to get along with straight-laced manager Harry Walker. Pepitone was traded to the Chicago Cubs where he soared with his batting average, all the way up to .307 in the '71 campaign. Strange. He got established in Chicago but would move on again, to Japan for a three-year stint.
Baseball writers will assert as fact that Pepitone was a talented guy who underachieved because of his lifestyle. I don't know. Sometimes these lifestyle oddities are a way for a player to blow off steam, to deal with stress. Maybe Pepitone played up to his ability completely. How would the writers know?
 
Context of the times
Pepitone was at the peak of his production when the Viet Nam war was at its peak for creating discomfort across the U.S. Maybe Bouton was irritated by Pepitone's idiosyncrasies because he saw Pepitone as a self-absorbed guy at a time when he could have been speaking out about the war, as Bouton did.
The '60s baseball era was so different from today. Pitchers had their arms thrown out from overuse all the time. Players were mistreated and taken advantage of. The players union solved a lot of that but then it got too much power. We are flawed human beings.
I remember Joe Pepitone as an interesting player who could generate thrills. He won three Gold Gloves as a first sacker. You don't do that unless you have a fair amount of focus. I congratulate the man for his accomplishments. He was never paid to be a perfect human being. God made him the way he was.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"Hector" is not the same as "Hancock"

Legion baseball
Just got home from the senior center where I glanced through the (pretty small) July 9 Morris paper. I see where the Legion baseball team beat Hancock 18-4. Right away it dawned on me: this is a game that had the Willmar paper reporting that we played "Hector," not "Hancock." I reported on the game online assuming we'd played Hector, based on the West Central Tribune. It is so common to find errors and inconsistencies in that paper's sports reporting.
I do not appreciate being made to look like a fool. I don't have the standing to work one-on-one with coaches anymore. I rely on other media outlets. I'm not sure the Willmar paper has enough credibility to rely on anymore.
BTW isn't Hector that community presented as exhibit 'A' in how small towns are struggling when they're close to a cluster of big box stores? In Hector's case that cluster is a half hour's drive away. In the case of our Motown, we're a 45-minute drive from Alexandria. Hector was profiled in the Star Tribune for struggling in this regard. Is adversity on the way for Morris? I don't know, but that new service road on the north end of town suggests that development is on the way. What do you think?
 
Our paper's dubious ad products
I took a glance at the Morris paper on Sunday, July 3, while at church. I take a glance at the letters to the editor page to see if Jeff Backer is being described as a saint or something less than that. Operatives on both sides are always busy scrutinizing. My bias is that the Republican side is a propaganda machine. There is really only one thing to keep in mind with Republicans: they don't want you to like government. They don't want you to assume you can get safe, healthy drinking water. Rick Snyder has not yet resigned.
I discovered the honor roll page in the Morris paper. For a long time this was made into a "sucker ad." In other words, there were sponsors for that page, maybe six of them. Above was this heading: "These businesses congratulate the MAHS honor roll achievers." Something to that effect. I always found that amusing. You mean the other businesses in town don't give a rip about MAHS achievers? I'm sure we're all astute enough to know what's up, because the heading should read: "These businesses were willing to get our their checkbooks for the Morris newspaper."
But that's the nature of the world we live in today: Everything has a price, even a mere gesture of congratulating kids.
I'm happy so many more kids make the honor rolls than when I was a student. If I were a student today, I'd be put on behavior meds (LOL).
When I was at the Morris paper, I was required to write local feature articles for those ag promotion pages: beef, pork and dairy. People were getting some supposedly valuable content to go along with the mere listing of "sponsors." The content appears to no longer have any value. Today it's just a listing of "sponsors," those little boxes with names of businesses. The page has no value at all. Oh, but to honor these ag producers? I assure you that the large farmers of today operate with no interest in getting any media attention at all. They want to be left alone, to be off the radar screen and just produce and make money. Media attention might just invite scrutiny from the likes of PETA.
The newspaper still thinks it can find enough sucker businesses who will sign up for the promo pages. How about a poultry page?
When I was at the paper, I was required to submit a list of articles I was working on, for the "status meeting" every Monday morning. Because we went to press on Friday, naturally it was difficult to come up with a fresh list. The Morris paper published twice weekly and with larger pages through my whole tenure there. I remember a local bank employee who was upset when the paper reduced the page size a wee bit. I wonder how she reacted when the paper went from two issues a week to one.
The Morris newspaper still has an associate editor (the position I held). Is that person required to compile a whole list of major non-sports articles every week?
A former co-worker who has since left the paper told me that the status meetings for the ad department were getting so stressful, it was starting to affect her weekends. What a way to live.
I was at the paper for 27 years. Over the last few years, I noticed a trend of the public being less willing to cooperate with the paper. People seemed to want to be left alone. I think they were getting more savvy, realizing that there was really nothing in it for them to "talk to the paper." Also, people were feeling empowered to communicate their own interests to the world via the Internet, a bottom-up system of communication. The old top-down system, as represented by the print media, seemed to be less appealing for people.
The Sun Tribune had people turning down the chance to be our "cover couple" for the bridal edition. This never would have happened years earlier. The Morris paper has nixed that whole special section, opting to just list businesses - another "sucker ad" - in a box in the regular paper. This is a real test of the basic intelligence of local businesspeople.
The paper is advertising for a new editor, who, according to the ad, will serve as a community "watchdog." I haven't noticed this inclination on the part of the newspaper at all. Did the paper investigate to see how the chancellor search process broke down at UMM? That would be elementary. Is there a story "behind the scenes?" There has to be.
I guess a highfalutin search committee is getting ready to do its thing again. People with all sorts of fancy stud papers are on that committee. A local lawyer is on that committee who needs to lose weight, IMHO.
A UMM insider told me Saturday that Rodney Hanley "would not have been a good fit for UMM, based on his background." Really? Who made this determination? Are there factions on the campus that are more influential than the search committee? If so, that's odd and unacceptable. It's also politics, which I have been around way too much in my life. I told this individual that we'd probably be seeing Jacqueline Johnson again for the Chancellor's Christmas Reception. He said Johnson might be phasing out commitments like that.
He also told me UMM is going to be challenged in the near future because of reduced tuition. Good news for students, but less money flowing into the institution.
I noticed that the July 9 Morris paper was just 20 pages, four less than the usual. Is this an aberration? Based on my research, newspapers continue quietly in a retreat mode, not so celebrated as it was ten years ago when the Internet made it obvious that the old newspaper model was seriously challenged. Ad circulars from Alexandria have helped keep our Morris paper afloat. I hope that doesn't float your boat.
I consider the content of the Sun Tribune to be basically pablum with lots of puffery. I certainly don't buy the paper. Certain people can be counted on to talk up the paper just like they talk up the Willmar paper (owned by the same company). If the Willmar paper is so great, how come it is abandoning having a local carrier? It's now using the Post Office. Here we have an example of that quiet retreat process.
The Morris paper's hike in newsstand price, from a dollar to $1.25, was asinine, but it doesn't surprise me considering the company we're dealing with.
I don't check the paper's website very often. Look at sports and you'll see a lot of non-local links. One of the reasons I felt I had to leave the paper was management's ambitious talk about what they would do with the website. The top manager said we'd have to get sports "scores" for the website. Well, has the Sun Tribune website turned into a "scoreboard central" for the area, being the go-to place for sports scores?
We had this "photo gallery" as part of the website, and there was no limit to the work we could do for that. I had sleepless nights wondering how far management was going to take this. Do people really need to come to the paper's website to see a hundred or so photos from something like Prairie Pioneer Days? What does that accomplish, in this age when nearly everyone takes their own photos with their handy devices? Selfies.
There was a time when it was special to have the newspaper photographer around. Not today.
Should the newspaper even try to put sports updates on its website? Problem is, as Jim Morrison will readily tell you, whatever you do for one team, you have to do for all the others. I think it's best for coaches to just type some paragraphs about each game and see it gets put online somewhere, anywhere.
The radio station has had some nice Legion baseball updates on its site, but recently that commitment faltered. When you start this sort of coverage/PR, you have to stay consistent with it. People certainly would have shot me out of the saddle if I abruptly abandoned coverage of a team. There were well-educated people in this town in dignified positions who could be reduced to talking like junior high boys in the boys room, when it came to criticizing the Morris paper's sports coverage. Many of those people were poised with their professional resumes ready to leave this town in a heartbeat if they could find something better. I won't name names.
In my last days with the Morris paper, I couldn't count on anything being predictable from one day to the next. They were playing mind games with me. The editor found time, when he wasn't smoking cigarettes, to type several pages of micro-managing directives on sports. The situation was becoming a parody of itself. He wanted UMM sports to be our highest priority. He wanted quotes from players in the articles. He wanted feature articles. I couldn't even come close to keeping up with all that was going on. My self-esteem was long gone. I knew full well I couldn't write as well as I was capable, such were the stresses wearing on me. So very sad.
The editor decided we should have weekly meetings to evaluate the sports section. I assure you these wouldn't be back-patting sessions. The sports section of a paper is the easiest thing in the world to shoot down, if you simply want to. I bailed out from the paper before we even had a meeting like that. I told Jim Morrison about this and he said: "Why don't they have meetings to evaluate the rest of the paper?"
I consider myself to be the biggest wasted talent in the history of Morris. I am genuinely saddened.
If the current newspaper management were to read this blog post, they would react by giggling and mocking me, because this is in the nature of media people: they are smartass know-it-alls. I have been around this attitude for much of my life.
On top of everything else I had to deal with, there was the aftermath of the goalpost incident at UMM. I needed that goalpost incident like I needed a hole in the head. UMM was competing at such a low level, why should anyone have given a rip about the goalposts and how the game turned out? And then I had to deal with holier-than-thou critics. Someone was proud to note he was a "friend" of the deceased. I just wanted to be left alone to have my supper at Pizza Hut that night.
The public should have realized that I just wanted to spend some time at home sometimes, like everyone else does: mowing the lawn, washing the car etc. Instead I was publicly accused of being "lazy." Mike Busian seemed to think we shouldn't cover the goalpost incident at all.
Today I don't have to worry about such things, but in 2006 I had to sacrifice my employment.
The last MAHS graduation that I covered was in 2006, the first year it was held at the new gymnasium. I sat there feeling sick, knowing that never again would I have the privilege of doing this. The paper's management arranged for three total employees to be there, including an intern and yours truly. The cigarette smoker was there too. The top manager said we should photograph all the graduates getting their diploma, I suppose offering the pix for sale.
The newspaper was in effect creating a whole new business: a photography business. The manager said that having three photographers would allow us to rest our batteries periodically. Three employees?
And then the smoker, who was the editor, vetoed the manager's plan anyway. That was insubordination, wasn't it? The Forum is a top-down company, not friendly at all to anyone being insubordinate. But maybe that was B.S. - the Forum is like any other business: as an employee you're either "in" or "out."
For most of my tenure with the paper, I was the only employee at graduation and I handled it just fine, just using some common sense to take notes and take some obvious photos. It was a relaxed job and even uplifting. I enjoyed myself being there. I didn't even stay for the awarding of diplomas because it wasn't necessary - I had all the stuff I needed. So I just went home! My work behavior wasn't placed under a microscope.
Nothing was routine at the end of my days at the paper. Nothing I did was good enough. Perhaps the goalpost incident was the whole catalyst for my downward slide at the end.
Forum Communications has a reputation of jettisoning people they don't want around anymore. A former manager of Quinco Press, Lowry, put it this way: "They make it so you don't want to be there anymore." Nice trick. He said he knew a vendor who called on Forum Communications properties and dreaded this, because the people at those properties were so short, humorless and sullen. It's sad.
 
At the park for PPD
We spent a short time at East Side Park for Prairie Pioneer Days. I saw a police officer walk across the park with her gun so visible at her side. What are the odds that the Morris police are going to have to shoot and kill someone at East Side Park on Sunday of Prairie Pioneer Days? Maybe these officers should leave their guns in their vehicles.
I don't think they should wear guns inside Morris restaurants. They will not have to shoot and kill anyone at DeToy's Restaurant. They could, however, scare some business off. In light of recent events, I think the Morris police chief should issue a strong public statement to the effect of "the Morris police will not shoot and kill someone at a traffic stop." It can't happen here? That's what we thought about the misbehaving Catholic priests. And then it happened here.
PPD has a distance run named for Marv Meyer. Has anything yet been named for Jerry Witt or Lyle Rambow?
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, July 8, 2016

Francis Schmidt ("Fritz") was gem of a person

(Pedersen FH photo)
Fritz Schmidt was the warming house attendant at the main street skating rink in the 1960s. Yes, there was a skating rink along our Atlantic Avenue back then. It was for recreational skating and not hockey. Hockey was a sport on the margins in those days. Kids of all ages came and enjoyed our facility.
Fritz enjoyed this type of commitment to the area's youth. He was very baseball-oriented. His son Steve, a fantastic lefthanded baseball pitcher, was two years older than me. That put him in the Morris High School Class of '71. Steve was widely thought to have pro potential as a pitcher. He threw with great velocity. The rarity of southpaw pitchers made him that much more confounding for batters. I remember watching him pitch like it was yesterday. He was held back by injury which I think he suffered lifting weights.
Fritz had a sister, Margaret, who was married to one of the town's photographers. Margaret was like a business partner for her husband Doug too. There were two town photographers: Doug Garberick and Walt Monroe. They were pillars of the community. I'm not sure how a professional photographer makes a living today, considering how people can handle their own photographic needs so well.
The Garbericks had their studio as part of their residence across from the court house. That house has been razed. The young musicians of Morris who were captivated by jazz loved Doug, an avid musician. Doug would take some of us kids, including his son Tom, to the Twin Cities for an occasional jazz/big band concert. Tom is a Buddy Rich-style drummer.
Walt Monroe had his studio where the Willie's parking lot is today. He too had a dynamic family.
My father formed a close friendship with Francis "Fritz" Schmidt. The two would talk for extended times at the skating rink warming house. Fritz was happy to step forward and volunteer for youth-centered activities. He had such an engaging personality and sense of humor.
I remember photographing Fritz on the morning after one of the most memorable Vikings football games ever. He wore a hat that had Viking horns protruding from the sides. I ran into Fritz at the main street restaurant where Riverwood Bank is today. The restaurant had three names through the years: Del Monico, Kelly's and Ardelle's. Fritz was celebrating the game where Ahmad Rashad made that miracle catch at the end, remember? I quoted Fritz saying "I fell off the davenport." We put the photo on page 1. Everyone who knew Fritz knew he was the perfect symbol for the kind of joy us fans felt.
My last image of Fritz was of him coming to our Morris Public Library where he was a very regular patron. He and I went out of our way to talk to each other. The aging process was creating some challenges for him, nevertheless he was the same old Fritz with a twinkle in his eye. We will all miss that so much.
Fritz was the gentle and easy-going type who reflected the traits of his generation: "The Greatest Generation." No one can stop the gradual exit of that unique and dedicated generation that defeated the Axis powers and was so happy to bring children into the world.
Fritz came into the world in 1920 on the family farm east of Morris. He was a lifelong devoted Catholic. He was a product of our country schools. You can get a taste of the country schools by visiting an authentic old building at the Stevens County Fair. I often think those schools had advantages.
Fritz's life changed in April of 1942 as Uncle Sam came calling. Fritz served as a sergeant in India and China. He was honorably discharged on November 14, 1945. He came back to his beloved family farm in America's heartland. He married his wife Madelyn in 1946. Father Fearon officiated.
Fritz would take over the farm from his father Henry who was a real patriarch. I remember Henry who lived to a quite advanced age. Fritz and Madelyn stayed on the farm until 2009 when they moved to Morris.
We remember Fritz very well as a devoted member of service organizations in Morris like the VFW, Legion, Eagles and Knights of Columbus. He built wooden butterflies and mailboxes.
Steve was one of four sons of Fritz and Madelyn. The others are Ray, Ron and Larry. Oh, and there are four daughters! Carol, Jan, Linda and Dar blessed the Schmidt marriage.
The story of Fritz in World War II was told in the book "The '40s, a Time for War and a Time for Peace," put out by the Stevens County Historical Society. The headline for Fritz's story is "V for Victory." Some dots and dashes of Morse code are also part of the headline. The book is at our public library. I'm sure Library Director Melissa Yauk will greatly miss seeing Fritz visit there.
Fritz passed away on July 5 at Stevens Community Medical Center. He was 96, the same age as my father when he passed. They can continue their repartee in heaven.
Funeral mass for Francis "Fritz" Schmidt is on Saturday, July 9, 2:30 p.m. at Assumption Catholic Church. Father Todd Schneider will officiate. In closing, I will quote Fritz's WWII story from the Stevens County Historical Society book. Here it is:
 
I entered the service April 26, 1942, and spent three and a half years in the Army Air Force. Our training began in Spokane, Washington, at Ft. George Wright. This is where we learned Morse code. Our salary was $26 a month. We then moved to Davis Montha Air Base in Tucson, Arizona. Then on to Stead Air Base at Reno, Nevada, still learning Morse and Japanese code. From there we shipped to Camp Stoneman, near Pittsburg, Caifornia. We were the 955 Radio Intelligence Squadron.
I then went overseas to Bombay, India, where we waited about a week for our equipment to arrive, but it had been sunk. We traveled overland by truck to Karachi. I got so much dust in my lungs from the roads that I got dust pneumonia. After about a month at Karachi, we traveled by train to Delhi and then on to Barikpur, north of Calcutta, where we stayed about two years. Spent the last seven months in China. I intercepted and copied Japanese code. Our transmissions were then decoded by our cryptographers, two mathematicians.
We had a squadron in Burma, India, and China, and with radio direction finders at each place, we were able to cross lines and find out where the signals came from. We were with the Flying Tigers, 14th Air Force.
I returned home November 14, 1945. Many years after the war ended, we heard that our work helped to shorten the war with Japan, which made me very proud.
 
Fritz Schmidt, RIP.
 
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

We accomplish change with less conflict

I have a couple acquaintances who graduated at the old elementary auditorium. It wasn't called the elementary auditorium then. That old erector set of buildings once housed up through grade 12. It was Morris High School in the days before "Area" got wedged in.
It would be nice to go back to "Morris High School." Area-wide high schools have become the norm. It's assumed. The word "Area" never gave any satisfaction to our surrounding small towns anyway. The surrounding small towns don't much care about these issues anymore. They did, when they had to let go of their schools. There was no worse hot-button political issue.
Area legend has it that a store in Cyrus was boycotted after the owner told the Glenwood paper that maybe the school board would have to acknowledge reality. Maybe the moral of the story is to not talk to a newspaper. Seriously. 
Eventually we saw the Cyrus task force try to determine the future for Cyrus kids. An area journalist told me that, just as I suspected, the task force ended up with much more power than intended. I'm not sure it ever had that much power, it just got lots of attention. My paper in Morris seemed to give breathless attention to every move that group made. 
I remember the first sentence the paper shared after the task force made its decision. It was a two-word sentence: "It's Hancock." I wasn't surprised given the social and political dynamics of our area. I observed personally how the small schools subscribed to a different ethos from our "big" Morris school. The small schools were, shall we say, more traditional. The Morris school was more inclined toward trendy educational ideas, what we might call deconstructionist thinking. 
There was also a perception that Morris was a town of cliques that might not be receptive to new kids from outside. "I'm afraid my son would get lost in the shuffle," a friend of mine from Hancock said. His son would become quarterback of the Hancock football team.
It was inevitable that many small schools were going to have to close or to pair extensively with other schools. The process should have been done with less of a feeling of conflict.
Conflict was so common up through the 1980s. I think our leaders recognized that and began to promote systems where necessary decisions could be made without such conflict. I remember being at the Atwood Center ballroom at St. Cloud State University in the late 1970s. The time had finally come to replace a ridiculously outdated bridge that crossed the Mississippi River and entered the SCSU campus. If you had occasion to visit SCSU in the 1970s, you must remember that relic of an earlier time. Though it was a no-brainer to replace it, a process began that led to an unreasonable amount of contentiousness.
A public meeting was held at the Atwood ballroom, mainly to get comments on an environmental impact statement, as I recall. I suppose the new bridge would be accompanied by a busier artery through that part of St. Cloud. People showed up at the meeting who were angry beyond words. I had to shake my head. Anyway, I think our leaders recognized that this method for planning development was unreasonable. Tough decisions have to be made sometimes, as with the phasing-out of small schools.
It may have been political to allow the construction of the Lac qui Parle and Minnewaska schools, those so-called "cornfield high schools." Before long I was hearing that the state legislature wasn't going to allow these cornfield schools anymore. People in positions of authority were bypassing the local, emotion-fueled politics to see that the right decisions got made. They did us a favor, preventing the kind of anger that can cause permanent strained relations between people.
Why did Lac qui Parle Valley have "Valley" in its name? There's no valley there, is there? The story I heard once is that "Lac qui Parle" alone wasn't going to fly, because that name had already been used for the Madison-based wrestling program. Wrestling! Using that name for the new school might suggest that Madison was in a preferred position, I guess.
The politics of the Cyrus transition was similarly confounding. "It's Hancock." After all that trouble, "it's Hancock." Why? Well, emotions and small town parochialism had their wheels in motion. We began to suspect this when we learned in short order that the Hancock scheme was going to fall apart. People showed up at the Hancock school board and weren't even interested in hearing any rationale for accepting the new combo with Cyrus. Cyrus had gotten concessions for keeping its facilities going. Those concessions didn't sit well with some Hancock residents, who really got their dander up.
The whole idea crumbled in spite of all that elaborately reported activity by the task force. 
Today, I don't think my writing about this is going to offend anyone, because these very small towns have moved on, adjusted and found their new niche in the world. They are very content being quiet, safe retirement or satellite communities. They are enviable in that sense. No need for a school with its sports teams building emotions, many of them not very inspiring, like in the movie "Hoosiers." No need for Gene Hackman throwing a punch at an opposing smart-aleck player.
Our whole society has moved beyond conflict-fueled emotions. It has been a slow process that many of us haven't even noticed. Responsible decisions will be made that needn't engender so much anger by certain people. St. Cloud needed some better-developed arteries through the city. The small towns around Morris were going to have to become more Morris-oriented. If there were any problems associated with the Morris school, and there were, they would be smoothed over in due time.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Morris takes charge in fifth to defeat Hector

Morris 18, Hector 4
The Morris Legion squad wrapped up June with a display of offensive prowess. The Morris bats pounded out 12 hits in an 18-4 triumph over Hector.
The scoreboard gap didn't open up until the fifth. So decisive was the Morris rally in the fifth, the "rule" was applied (ten-run rule). The score was just 6-4 entering the fifth. Hector led 3-1 at the end of three innings. Post 29 put five runs on the board in the fourth. Then came the decisive 12-run fifth.
Hector got that early 3-1 lead on the strength of a Brandon Shaw three-run homer in the third. Zach Copa had three hits for Hector.
The game wasn't a defensive showcase as Morris had three errors and Hector had four.
Toby Sayles made noise with his bat for Morris. Sayles doubled as part of putting up a three-for-three boxscore line. He scored three runs and drove in two. Phillip Anderson had a double as part of a three-for-four showing. Phillip scored three runs and drove in one. Denner Dougherty had a hit in his only at-bat, and drove in a run. Chase Metzger also went one-for-one, his hit a double. Chase drove in three runs and scored one.
Jared Anderson went one-for-three and crossed home plate three times. Brady Jergenson had a hit along with two runs scored and two RBIs. Mitchell Dufault rapped a hit in his only at-bat and drove in two runs. Sean Amundson went one-for-three and scored two runs.
The Hector hitters included a couple of guys whose names might make you think they were from Morris: Bryce Schmidgall and Peyton Rohloff. Both these guys had a hit. Michael Melander had a hit in his only at-bat.
On to pitching: It was Sean Amundson getting the win with his stint of two innings in which he fanned three batters, walked one and allowed three hits. He gave up no runs.
Toby Sayles worked on the hill for three innings. He struggled some, giving up four hits and three runs (earned) while walking three batters and striking out four. Brandon Shaw was the losing pitcher. Melander and Rohloff also saw pitching work. The Hector staff got roughed up obviously.
 
Morris 6, New London-Spicer 1
A win over New London-Spicer is always a feather in the cap, no matter the sport. The sport in focus right now is American Legion baseball. Morris took on NL-Spicer on a typically hot midsummer Saturday at our Chizek Field. Sean Amundson pitched the whole way as Morris triumphed 6-1.
We manufactured a pair of runs in the first inning. A walk and three hit batsmen did the job for getting the two runs pushed across. We had no hits in the inning. Chase Metzger came through with a sacrifice fly to score Amundson. A wild pitch opened the door for Jared Rohloff to race across home plate.
The bats of Metzger and Denner Dougherty produced RBI singles in the fifth. So the score stands 4-0. Toby Sayles and Brady Jergenson came through with RBI hits in the sixth.
Amundson nearly twirled a shutout. His bid came up shy in the seventh with two outs: He gave up a double by Evan Haugen that scored John Perkins. Amundson scattered eight hits. He set down six batters on strikes, and walked one. Amundson impressed at the plate too, going two-for-three with two runs scored. Toby Sayles rapped two hits, scored twice and drove in a run. Metzger racked up two RBIs.
The losing pitcher was Landon Tanner. Landon was erratic as he hit four batters and walked three. He struck out five and allowed four runs. Josh Soine was also handed the ball for pitching duties.
Morris' win was our sixth of the summer.
 
Baseball fading?
I took a look under the glass of the Star Tribune vending machine at DeToy's this morning, as I always do. Today I spotted a headline suggesting that youth baseball was having trouble staying viable with numbers.
I can remember when a trend began of African-Americans losing interest in baseball. There were so many terrific African-American baseball players in the 1960s, the likes of Wilie Mays, Bob Gibson, Willie McCovey et. al. Today it seems like baseball is challenged across the board attracting interest.
Upon seeing the headline, my thoughts drifted back to when I was present as a media person for a Hancock Little League tournament championship game, many years ago of course. I became amazed at how underwhelming this display of baseball was. The fielders just stood out there, hardly ever getting a chance to exercise their muscles. The right fielder could just as well have sat cross-legged and done some crocheting. Heck, all the outfielders could have done that. The pitchers constantly threw balls outside the strike zone. There were many passed balls.
I thought to myself: "The only reason the parents accept this, is that it replicates major league baseball which they watch on TV all the time." The replication was superficial, of course, as in the big leagues the basic execution was 100 percent sharper. "My God," I thought to myself, "why can't these poor boys play soccer instead?" Maybe that day is coming.
As kids lose interest in baseball (according to the Star Tribune), soccer will become the natural alternative. When I was a kid we considered soccer boring. However, the rest of the world does not consider soccer boring. We need to get with the program.
We all know about football's problems. The rest of the world does not fall into the American addiction to football. The rest of the world probably recoils at the obviously unreasonable violence.
If both baseball and football are on the verge of a substantial dropoff in interest, our whole culture is going to have to adjust. In fact, maybe we need to start questioning why we emphasize sports so much, an activity where certain kids are born with "talent" that whisks them into the spotlight, making them into heroes and warping their whole outlook. We need to make it more acceptable for kids to simply shrug and say "no" to sports. They will surely preserve their bodies and brains. I am blessed: I never displayed any talent for sports.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com