Tuesday, May 30, 2006

baseball has been very very good to me - memorial day 2006

just some random thoughts regarding baseball, both recently and forever.

i made my annual trip to the dc area to see the baltimore orioles play. this time it was a first for me ... vs. the new washington nationals at rfk stadium. though i was 40 years too late (his absolute peak was the '66 triple crown, mvp and world series champ season), i was still thrilled to be able to get a glimpse of former oriole and hall of famer frank robinson. even if it was as a 70 year old manager of the struggling nationals.

the o's lost both games i saw, but i still had a wonderful time at the park. i'm almost 45, but i still bring a glove with me to the games in hopes of snagging an errant foul ball. i caught two at camden yards over the years and a few in durham at the bulls games. in fact, i saw the bulls friday and saturday play the orioles' AAA team this weekend at their fabulous ballpark which is about a mile and a half from my home. my frequent traveling buddy and longtime friend brad magner usually find time to throw a few pitches back and forth on the lawn of the hotel each year. though i was primarily a second baseman in my prime (i played organized ball from age 9 to 18, and was part of the state championship team in high school in '78) i am now a 44 year old knuckleballer. wish i had come up with that pitch 25 years ago.

speaking of that high school championship team, i received word this morning that our catcher greg baker has died after a courageous battle with melanoma. he was a couple of years ahead of me so he was one of the "big guys" when i was growing up. i really looked up to him. i'd known him since jr. high school when he caught for that team and he was in the 9th grade and i was in the 7th. seems i was always one of the "little kids". but he was a giant. he was funny, had the prettiest girlfriend and was a damned fine ballplayer. some of those guys from that team were giants to me anyway. most of the older guys won the state championship when they were 13 or 14 when they were in the little tar heel league. so i knew by the time they made it to high school, they'd be an amazing team. and sure enough, when i was a sophomore and greg was a senior, we won it all on charlotte's home field. ironically, this was the same field the charlotte orioles played their double A ball. cal ripken had played there either that same year or the year before. as had hall of famer eddie murray when he was at that level. we all thought we'd make it to the big leagues. none of us did. but greg went on to be a policeman and detective and made his family proud.

i miss those guys and i'll miss greg. i hadn't seen him since our 20th reunion of the championship team in '98.

this weekend as i was playing soft toss, shagging flies and taking grounders with my buddy tom meltzer, greg was dying in a hospital. and i had no idea. but the night before i'd heard of his death, i'd thought of that team for some reason. maybe i was thinking of how graceful donald sanderford or larry newsome were in the outfield as i was huffing and puffing in the hot memorial day sun at jaycee park.
and i was trying to remember the lineup of that team. i finally typed the lineup into my computer for safekeeping. and of course, then the sad news arrived. my thoughts are with the baker family today and all of the people who had the pleasure to know him, grow up with him and love him.

i remember at that reunion, one of my summer league coaches by the name of c.a. tanner came to remember that wonderful summer with us. i learned this past weekend that he too passed away. another fine man. a national guardsman and a great singer. he used to sing the national anthem at several of our summer league games. while i pause to remember all of these fallen friends and heroes, i want to mention coach ward miller who died about ten years ago, far too young in his early 40's. surely one of the best coaches i'd ever had. maybe the best. he coached greg and i in junior high. he was a classy gentleman and always taught fundamental baseball to us and how to win and lose with class.

here's that 1978 garner high school trojan baseball team. if i've left anyone out, it's due to a faulty memory 28 years ago and i'll make corrections.

coach - brinkley wagstaff (who only coached this one year and left as champion)

C - greg baker
1B - david boyette
2B - david daughtry
SS - moe barbour
3B / LF - eric williams
LF - larry newsome
CF - donald sanderford
3B / 2B - ronnie parker
RF - wayne dail

P - walter stephens
P - roger jenkins
P - roger jernigan
P - steve wiggins

3B / P - freddie elliot
2B - jeff hart
OF - ruff bailey
C - todd smitherman
1B - kerry cross

greg baker 1960 - 2006