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Movie Review – No No: A Dockumentary

Originally published on BaseballdeWorld.com

There was a lot of talk around the baseball world a little over a year ago when  documentary premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. No No: A Dockumentary was the film in question and was just recently added to Netflix.

Before hearing of the film I knew just a little about Dock Ellis. I knew he was a very good pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates back in their heyday of the early 1970s. I had also heard all of the stories of drug use. He has said many times, including in the film, that he never pitched without being under the influence of some drug.

When I first heard of the film I thought it was all about the game in San Diego in 1970 when he reportedly pitched a no-hitter under the influence of LSD. However, it was more than just this incident and in fact a documentary on Ellis’ life.

The story about the no-hitter was an interesting one and something that I can’t even imagine taking place in today’s game, or anytime for that matter. But what made the film great was the insight into his life during and after his playing career.

Before watching the film I looked up Ellis’ stats. I thought going into watching it that he was maybe close to a 200 game winner and had a solid career. That really wasn’t the case. He was good, but mostly for a short time. Perhaps it was the drug use that shortened the effectiveness of his career.

He did have a nice career. He pitched over 12 years in the big leagues, pitching for five different teams. Most of his success came early on with Pittsburgh, but he did have good years later in his career both with the New York Yankees and even a decent year with the Texas Rangers.

But the biggest thing I found from the documentary, and what was the most touching, was the work he did after his playing days were over. There is a good bit on that as well as he eventually got clean and began working with others that were in need of help. He had a lot of experiences to share and became quite a councilor from the sound of it.

Over all it was a great documentary and I really enjoyed it. It is one that will be added to my collection, and I highly recommend it to any baseball fan. It also reminded me that I wanted to read the book The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven by Aaron Skirboll. Of course that is a story for another day and one that I hope to bring soon.

In the meantime, if you have Netflix watch No No: A Dockumentary. It is just under two hours and it is really good. You can also rent it on Amazon streaming.

Here is the trailer from www.NoNoADockumentary.com:

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Book Review: Wrigleyworld: A Season in Baseball’s Best Neighborhood by Kevin Kaduk

Wrigleyville is the well known area surrounding the ever popular summer spot of Wrigley Field. There are restaurants and bars and plenty of baseball fans to be found on a summer afternoon. Many baseball fans have wondered what it would be like living in the neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field for a summer of baseball and fun. One such fan did so. And he wrote a book about it.

Kevin Kaduk’s Wrigleyworld: A Season in Baseball’s Best Neighborhood is the story of Kevin’s summer in Chicago. The former Kansas City Star sportswriter, and current editor of Yahoo’s Big League Stew blog, gives us a peak into life in Wrigleyville.

I admit I was quite excited when I first saw the book for sale. Although it came out in 2006, I did not find it until about a year ago. Recently I finally got the chance to pick it up from a used book store and give it a read. Sadly, I have to admit it was a letdown.

Kevin starts off telling us about how the idea came about. He was off writing about  high school sports in Kansas City, which he freely admits not likely very much although he liked who he worked with and for. I found it a bit annoying to listen to his complaining of a good job in a good city. I can fully understand the longing to be somewhere else though. He decided to take action.

Leaving Kansas City he took up residence a few blocks from Wrigley Field and set about writing about his encounters.

Some of the things I enjoyed reading about. Getting a glimpse about what it was like to deal with scalpers day in and day out was interesting. I’ve always found scalpers to be interesting people.

He also had run ins with the ballhawks out on Wavelyn and Sheffield. The ballhawks are the guys who wait for homeruns to leave Wrigley Field in order to collect a souvenir. I always thought it would be interesting to take in a game with the ballhawks. He was there the same season when there was a movie being made about them as well, Ballhawks.

However, what stood out to me the most about the book was it was more of a barhopping, girl chasing, conquest seeking journal. I was interested in learning about the establishments that surround Wrigley, and Kevin does a good job providing information on them, including some interesting backgrounds. That aside, there was a bit too much about drinking and chasing women.

If he was going to talk about the drinking, I would have rather heard some interesting stories from the bleachers. He includes a little of this, but not enough for my liking to be honest.

One thing I felt that was lacking, but I understand why, was the lack of information and stories about the rooftops overlooking Wrigley Field. He does try a few times to get onto the roofs, but in the end there is little information other than how hard or expensive it can be.

Overall it is a decent book. If you are a diehard Cubs fan, I would say go get it and give it a quick read. It isn’t that long and it’s an easy read. However, do not think that this is the book to read to gain valuable insights and secrets into the fabled Wrigleyville.

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Book Review: Slouching Toward Fargo

On the cover it claims it is “A Two-Year Saga of Sinners and St. Paul Saints at the Bottom of the Bush Leagues with Bill Murray, Darryl Strawberry, Dakota Sadie and Me”. The book is Slouching Toward Fargo by Neal Karlen, and I enjoyed every bit of the book except the “Me” part.

The book is about the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League mostly during the 1996 and 1997 seasons. The team, and league, were still in its infancy and full of interesting people on and off the field.

How the book started it seems was that writer Neal Karlen was sent by Rolling Stone to do a piece on Bill Murray who was part owner in the club. He was there to do a hatchet job on Murray and as fate would have it on Darryl Strawberry as well.

Over the course of the first year Karlen has some interesting run ins with Murray, Strawberry, as well as others. These stories are entertaining, but I got a little tired of hearing how Karlen was there to do the hatchet job.

The characters of St. Paul were amazing. You have the great Bill Murray who in my book is one of the funniest men of all time. You have Darryl Strawberry who is there trying to make his way back to the Major Leagues by showing that he is now a good guy. Then you have Mike Veeck the president and co-owner of the Saints who had been blackballed from Major League Baseball for things that happened years ago. Not to mention there is an outfielder with no legs, a pig that delivered baseballs, a blind announcer, the first woman player and a nun who gives massages at games.

It’s a cast of characters that would make any story interesting, and Karlen does a good job of writing about this. But what I didn’t like is how Karlen kept inserting himself in the story. As a reader I want to read about the Saints, not how the writer was burned out and didn’t love baseball anymore.

With that being said, the book is still very good. The people of this town and team make this book. Everywhere you turn there seems to be someone just as interesting as the last. You get a taste of what life is like in the lowest of the low minor leagues where people are working and playing for the love of the game.

Mike Veeck’s “Fun is Good” motto really shows through in the writing and you can imagine the fun that people had at the games. And even though the book was written about a time that is now more than 15 years ago, it’s still a great read.

The ballplayers, former MLB guys and career minor leaguers alike, are interesting, funny, and you even finding yourself rooting for some of them even though all this happened nearly two decades ago. There are just a lot of likable people that you will be looking up on Google and Baseball Reference to see how they performed after the time of the book.

So get past the part of the writer inserting himself a little too much into the story, in my opinion, and give this a read because it’s definitely worth it. It’s been out for some time so you should be able to find a cheap used paperback copy somewhere.

I give this book a rating of 3.5 gloves.

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Movie Review: The Emerald Diamond

What country won its first international baseball game against a country that no longer exist and the first player to get a hit in international play was born in another country?

Ireland

I have always been fascinated with baseball played in countries other than the USA. Sure it’s the same game, but at the same time it’s not. Awhile back I came across a documentary on baseball in Ireland, and I had to see it.

The Emerald Diamond is a beautiful film. It chronicles the emergence of the Irish National Baseball Team on the European baseball scene. It is an interesting story told by film maker John Fitzgerald.

Up until 1995 there was no Irish National Baseball Team. It basically formed out of the desire of a few softball players who wanted something a little more. They continued the hope and formed a team that would eventually play internationally in 1996.

The European B Pool Championships were being held in England in 1996, so the boys in green got ready and made the trip.

Most of the players on the team had very little or no experience playing baseball growing up. For the most part they were far outmatched by their European counterparts, but they never quit.

After a successful trip to England, for a developing team at least, they received some help from an Irish-American. Peter O’Malley at the time was the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers but was a player in helping develop baseball globally. He helped build the  O’Malley baseball fields in Corcaigh Park in Clondalkin, West Dublin, Ireland which is considered the home of Irish Baseball. It also happened to be the first baseball field in Ireland.

The team continued to play in the European Championships gradually doing a little better each time as they gained more experience. However, it was when the team raised funds and took off on a trip to the USA that things really seemed to turn around.

In 2001, the Irish National Team and an all-star youth team took a two-week trip to the east coast of the States to play exhibition games. They learned a lot on this trip and it eventually helped them improve in the long run. Both the youth team and the National Team quickly learned from seeing other teams practice and play. They also received some help from coaches in the States that they met in the games. It was a great learning experience that helped propel the team to further heights.

However, the highlight of the trip had to be playing an exhibition game at Fenway Park.

Throughout the film you see the want and desire on every players face as they go through a learning curve. But that desire to compete and improve never leaves. It’s an infectious thing that no matter how bad the loss might have been would always creep back into the minds of the players and coaches.

That’s the beauty of the film. It’s great seeing the improvement of the team, and they really did improve but I don’t want to give everything away (you’ll have to watch the film). But the real beauty if seeing the growth of the game on every level. Not only did the adult program expand and improve, but so did the youth programs and that is really where the growth of the game will come from. The first adults to play the game will get old, but if the kids find a love in the game you will have baseball forever.

It’s a great film. Head on over to IrishBaseballMovie.com to read more about it and don’t forget to pick up a copy. You might be surprised how quickly the team went from nothing to winning games internationally.

I have to give this a 5 glove rating. It’s definitely one you’ll want to own.

Stay tuned for more reviews coming soon….

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Book Review: Out of My League by Dirk Hayhurst

Originally posted on BaseballdeWorld.com

Former MLB pitcher Dirk Hayhurst made a splash in the book industry with his first best seller The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran which talked about life in the minor leagues. Now he is back with his second best seller, Out of My League.

Out of My League is about Dirk’s ascension to the big leagues. The book takes you through the twists, turns, and turmoil of a minor league pitcher trying to make his way into Major League Baseball.

Hayhurst may not be a future hall of famer, but he definitely delivers with this book. Dirk’s humor shows through right away from the first few pages where he had me laughing right away. He takes you through an off-season of a low-paid minor league pitcher who not only has to work out and stay sharp but also has to find an off-season job to keep himself afloat.

From the hi-jinx dealing with his grandmother, to finding a car that he can afford that will run long enough to get him back to baseball, to some spring training humor this is a great book.

However, this book is about more than just baseball. It’s one man’s journey on and off the field in the pursuit of his lifelong dream of pitching in the major leagues. During the time before making it to the big leagues, Dirk meets his wife. He tells of this courtship which adds to story as he is trying to keep the chase alive but at the same time making someone apart of his life.

Through his new wife and the struggles he has with making her apart of his life, we see another side of the game that is overlooked all too often. Dirk struggles with planning a wedding and trying to make the jump from AAA to the big leagues. It’s an interesting and emotional ride.

Dirk shows us a different side of the Major Leagues. It’s not an inside look at the underbelly of the league or an expose on the things that go on into the clubhouse, but a look at rookie struggles. We forget sometimes that there is a pecking order that needs to be followed in the game, and Dirk does a good job of showing us just how difficult falling in line can be.

Most people see making the big leagues as the ultimate prize with nothing but gold paved streets. Sure there are five star hotels, and Dirk gives us a brief look at that, but his journey is more than that. It’s more on the mental side of things for a struggling rookie just trying to stay afloat. Making the big leagues is one thing, but staying there is a completely different deal and this is what Dirk shows us.

He gives us an inside look at rookie hazing, relationships with managers and players for a rookie, but he delves deep into the self-doubt and paranoia a rookie can experience while at the same time realizing his dream. It’s a mental struggle that many can’t handle, and Hayhurst shows us why. He shows us the cold side of baseball where if you don’t produce they don’t have sympathy for you. We are shown how a few words from the right person can tear you apart mentally and put enough doubt in you that can be hard to overcome.

But as quick as you are torn down, someone can see something in you that picks you right back up. It’s a rough business and the ups and downs can be brutal on a person’s pysche.

Through it all you find yourself rooting for Dirk to do well, even if you know how things turned out. The self-doubt and loathing that he goes through puts a new spin on life in baseball and makes for an interesting read.

If you read The Bullpen Gospels, you’ll definitely want to pick this one up. If you haven’t read The Bullpen Gospels, what are you waiting for. Go pick up both books. They are both great reads. Out of My League is a great insight to the struggles and mental side of the game that is rarely seen. Pick it up today.

Next I’ll be reviewing Deadball: A Metaphysical Baseball Novelby David B. Stinson, so stay tuned for that in the coming days.

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Movie Review: One Hit from Home

I’ll watch just about anything that deals with baseball. So when I saw earlier this week that a baseball themed movie came out on DVD, I jumped at the chance to check it out.

One Hit from Home is the story of a struggling ex-major leaguer who returns home in the midst of a disappointed career.  He  runs into a bit of trouble and is given the choice of jail or coaching a struggling college team.

It’s quite strange in fact. They say he was a huge disappointment, but when they talk about him playing in the big leagues they make it sound like he was good. The reason he quit was he hurt his knee. They never say it was because he couldn’t cut it. So why was he such a huge disappointment? I don’t get it.

I could go into the story line in more depth here, but I won’t bother. It wasn’t a great movie or even a very good one.

I don’t mind not so good action when they are playing the game, but this was some of the worst at times. At one point a team turns to a hard throwing pitcher and out comes some Incredible Hulk wanna be who obviously has never thrown a baseball before.  Most of the actions isn’t this bad, but at times it is.

The story line was way too predictable and honestly the acting wasn’t great at times. Overall I would rate it a single glove on the Baseball Journeyman ranking system. If you have some time to kill and there is nothing else on maybe give it a shot. However, I wouldn’t recommend paying even a dollar to see it which is why I am not wasting too much time going into more details. It’s just not worth the effort.

 

 

 

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Book Review: Have Glove Will Travel by Bill Lee

I have never seen former MLB pitcher Bill Lee play in person. I was too young to see him pitch during his prime, but I am a huge fan.

Bill Lee has played baseball for what I am guessing is 50+ years now. In his book Have Glove, Will Travel: Adventures of a Baseball Vagabond, Lee tells tales about his days after being blackballed from Major League Baseball.

This was one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time. Bill Lee is quite easily one of the most interesting players to come along in the last half century. He has openly talked about smoking pot, run for president, and even became friends with a guy who was notorious for hating pitchers in Ted Williams.

The stories Lee tells in this book give an interesting perspective on the game of baseball. He still plays to this day because of his love for the game. After his release from baseball for his outspoken comments regarding the Montreal Expos, he was never able to return to the elite league where he once dominated. Instead he took his show on the road, literally.

He tells of going to Russia during the Cold War to play baseball which is a good story but mostly for what happens off the field. Lee has never shied away from talking about his partying, and he didn’t disappoint when heading to Russia.

He has taken his game to Cuba several times, and has a love for the people of the island there that shows in his writing about his trips. They love the game in a similar way he does, for the joy of playing it. It seems Lee was born a few decades too late as he would have been a great fit in the era of the barnstorming teams of the 1920s.

Lee was a fabulous pitcher with the Red Sox, and he touches on the Curse of the Bambino giving his thoughts. He always has some interesting viewpoints and when you bring up exorcism it can be pretty entertaining.

Most of his stories are humorous but not all of them. He tells a touching tale of a poor woman in Cuba who is generous by giving him fruit from her tree when she has nothing else to give. All because he was kind enough to come in and say hello to her shy little boy. It’s a touching tale that is moving, especially the second time he returns a few years later.

Despite many people thinking he might be a little crazy or “off his rocker”, Bill Lee is a pretty down to Earth guy. He knows that athlete heroism is overblown, and he points out there hasn’t been a single athlete that kids should look up to except one, Jackie Robinson. He also points out that there are other true heroes out there, and he points to the men and women who stood tall and helped others on 9/11. Those are the real heroes that people should look up to, and I’d have to agree with him.

This is an easy read, and once you get into it you won’t want to put it down. I’d highly recommend it to any fan of the game, even Yankees fans. You can pick it up almost anywhere, including Amazon. So pick up a hard copy or the Kindle version and enjoy.

If you are interested in Bill Lee, you might also like Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey about one of his trips to Cuba.

Using the BaseballJourneyman rating system, I give this book 4 gloves:

 

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Book Review: Deadball by David B. Stinson

Nostalgia is a part of baseball that stays with us as we get older. I can remember watching games as a kid at old Arlington Stadium that is now a parking lot. When I go back to Arlington and visit The Ballpark, I think back to when I was a kid watching games with my dad and brothers. But what if I could get back to Arlington Stadium just once more to sit in the bleachers like I did when I was a kid. This is the thought and feeling I got when reading David Stinson’s Deadball: A Metaphysical Baseball Novel.

In this novel, Stinson tells of a former minor leaguer, Byron “Bitty” Bennett, who’s love of the game extends past the history of his beloved Baltimore Orioles, but to the old parks that once served as the stage for some of the greatest players and teams to have ever played the game. However, his connection to the game is more than that of just a former player. It’s more spiritual than that.

Bennett does his best to study the history of the game in Baltimore, but he does more than just read. He uses his knowledge and old photos to try and visualize the places where the game he loves so much was once played. Visiting these ballparks he is introduced to and slowly incorporated into a society of believers that resembles something out of Field of Dreams.

As he ventures around to various old stadiums in Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore, he slowly sees more and more of something he can’t quite explain. Slowly he sees more at each stop. He starts by having conversations with players that he thinks are either ghosts or someone playing a practical joke. He isn’t quite sure.

Slowly he sees more and more as he continues his journey. He begins to see the stadiums as they were during their hay day. But it is more than the stadium. He begins to see the ticket takers, fans, and vendors even conversing with a few over time. He struggles with what he sees and the conversations he begins to have with people. He isn’t quite sure if what he is seeing is real or just a dream.

The few people he tells of these visions don’t believe him only furthering his frustration and struggles with reality. However, Byron continues looking for answers from the present and the past.

This book did a great job weaving the present with the past. It’s entertaining, and keeps the reader guessing what will happen in the end. I was actually surprised in the end in a good way.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It has increased my interest in the parks that have long disappeared, and took me back to my childhood to the park where I grew up watching games that is long gone.  It’s a journey to the past that engages the reader opening your mind to possibilities that are often overlooked.

I would highly recommend this to anyone. Baseball fans will love the history that is incorporated into the story, but I think anyone would enjoy the book for the story of Byron and his struggles with reality. I can only hope Mr. Stinson decides to write another book.

In the Baseball Journeyman rating system, I give this book a full 5 gloves. Pick it up and I think you’ll find yourself rooting for Byron “Bitty” Bennett like I did.

 

*In full disclosure, I was given this book by the author to read, but all my opinions about the book are mine and mine alone. Any items given to me for review purposes are always fully disclosed, but in no way does that mean a positive review will be given. As well, my reviews contain affiliate links. If you click and then purchase an item I will receive a small commission. Thanks for your understanding.

 

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Book Review: The American Dream by Nicholas H.W. Henning

Recently I read the story The American Dream: From Perth to Sacramento about a young ballplayer named Damian from Australia who is signed and plays ball in the minor leagues in the US. I really enjoyed the book for several reasons.

The writer, Nicholas H.W. Henning, is Australian so the language used is different than what you would hear from an American writer. I found this interesting just for the simple fact of seeing how they would describe players and their abilities using different words. It made the book just a little more interesting in that respect for me. Then again I am fascinated with the game in other countries.

Speaking of which, you get a little insight into the game in Australia. The story takes place back in the early 1990’s before there was an Australian Baseball League so the set up of the game in the country was different then. It provides a little insight into the structure of the leagues and major tournaments that laid the groundwork for the 2nd coming of the ABL.

You also get an insight on what it’s like to be a player from another country coming over to America. You are right there along side Damian as he tries new things like Creole food, driving a stick shift, and even driving on the right side of the round. All things that one might take for granted if they are from the US in the first place.

There is humor in the book as well that is written quite well. The joke that the players play on one another during their medical check up in spring training is hilarious, and it’s easy to see players actually doing something like this as well.

There are just so many sides to the story that are interesting and that’s what kept me reading. Sure some of it is devoted to Damian’s love life which is interesting from the long distance stand point. But then you add in the groupies that are around the players and more hilarity ensues.

You are also given a glimpse inside the life of a player dealing with relationships, and relationships that may not last a long time. Players get traded, released, or injured and they aren’t around for anymore for a number of reasons. You see the difficult side of dealing with these relationships and how they can affect you in the short and long term.

I really enjoyed reading the book and think you would as well. It’s an easy read that keeps you entertained. I like the view point of the foreigner coming to America to play the game and the obstacles he goes through in order to chase his dream like thousands of others.

You can find all of Nicholas R.W. Henning’s book on Amazon and you can follow his blog at http://nicholasrwhenning.blogspot.com/I would highly recommend picking up one of his books as I thoroughly enjoyed mine. In my own personal way of rating, I would have to give this book 4 out of 5 gloves.

 

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*In full disclosure, I was given this book by the author to read, but all my opinions about the book are mine and mine alone. Any items given to me for review purposes are always fully disclosed, but in no way does that mean a positive review will be given. As well, my reviews contain affiliate links. If you click and then purchase an item I will receive a small commission. Thanks for your understanding.

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UWF Argo Baseball Player Blog

One of my favorite blogs is back. Phillip Ebert of the defending Div. 2 National Champion UWF Argos is back and blogging more and more. Last season Ebert, who pitches for the Argos, blogged during UWF’s run at their first baseball title, and this year he is back blogging about their attempt at a repeat.

Already UWF has climbed to #2 in the rankings. They aren’t going to surprise anyone this year and they have a target on their back which all makes for some interesting reading from Ebert.

Philip was kind enough to talk to me last season, and you can read his interview here.

So if you like baseball at the college level, head on over and check out his blog. It’s an interesting read from a player and students perspective which has been great. Phillip gives you insight on what it is like not only to play ball at one of the best programs going right now, but what it’s like to be a student doing it.

You can find his blog here at College Baseball Lineup.

I hope you’ll head on over and

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New Era (eFashion Solutions)

Quote of the Month

There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem - once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit. ~Al Gallagher, 1971

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