Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Just a WALK in the Park - An Evening @ Alan Knight Field

 Shenandoah, Virginia - I was returning to one of my favorite places in the Old Dominion for a quick WALK down memory lane yesterday as my path took me to Page County High School. Head Coach Alan Knight and his Lady Panthers were set to host Rappahannock County on Senior Day and the Skipper was looking for some assistance with the pregame ceremonies.

                 There had been a stretch of years when I called each and every home game at the beautiful facility that rests atop of the hill in between Newport and Shenandoah. Two constants in those days were the level of intensity in the Coach and  the level of success in the home team. While there is no official stats on the subject my best guess on my record behind the microphone there would be 87-2. You always knew that there would be plenty of fans in attendance and that the majority of them would go home happy.

                Unlike the trips before when the drive started from neighboring Luray this day began on Groundhog Mountain just above Mt. Airy, North Carolina. The final tally would be 449 miles roundtrip but that's just a WALK in the park for the opportunity to help out a friend. Coach is closing in on 40 years with his Softball program and the pride he openly displays about his team and his players is something to marvel at everyday.

                 Like any well thought out plan there will be unexpected bumps in the road and the first one came in the form of a missing opponent. The two schools are separated by just 32 miles but there is a large mountain that sits in between them on US-211. First pitch is slated for 5:30pm and the Senior Day ceremony is to happen prior to the first pitch but the visiting Panthers had yet to arrive as the clock ticked towards 5:00. The good news was that there was nothing more to the late arrival then the fact that the team bus was late getting to the school, causing a tardy departure.

               The Lady Panthers were honoring a Senior Class that had captured a State Championship with the hopes of adding another one later this season. The high school sports scene has been a make things up as you go scenario since the beginning of Covid last year. The biggest difference for the high school athletes versus the College athletes is the fact that you do not have the option of providing a ball player an extra season of eligibility to replace the one that was lost due to pandemic.

               After missing their past season completely, the team learned that their 2020-2021 campaign would be reduced from the usual 20 regular season games down to just 12. The start of the season was pushed back deep into the Spring and while most schools celebrate Senior Day on the final home game of the year, this year the idea was to host the event as quickly as possible.

             The quartet of players finishing their careers at PCHS have reached a pretty high perch atop the diamond in spite of losing an entire season.

             Ms. Madison Ellen Gordon - 5 years in the program.

             Ms. Taylor Renea Hankins - 5 years in the program.

             Ms. Morgan Lillian Lucas -  5 years in the program.

             Ms. Tana Marie Merica -      5 years in the program.

           Five years committed to a Coach that is as committed to his craft as anyone I have ever met or watched work between the lines. That takes a special level of dedication from a high school player that is also trying to enjoy her teen-age years and prepare for College. Playing softball for Coach is not for everyone so lets all give a special tip of the cap for these four ladies.

          The ceremony took place after the home team finished up their infield warmups and prior to RCHS taking theirs. The biggest difference from prior years was the lack of sadness that would be there when the players would pause to think about this time is the final time that I will be wearing this jersey and playing in front of these fans with this group of young ladies. No sadness shown because this chapter is just starting and the sky is the limit for this group.

          First pitch took place at 5:35pm (game time temperature of 65) which in itself was impressive when you combine the late arrival and the ceremony. The event was behind us and the game was in front of us now when I realized that I had overlooked one thing. While I had followed my normal College routine of meeting with the visiting Coach and going over how to correctly pronounce each player on their roster, I should have noticed that unlike WVU-Tech where I already know how to say the home players names this was not the case today.

          I mention this only because I am my own harshest critic and as much as Coach is miffed by an errors committed, I also am driven nuts by any goofs on my part. The moment that I glanced down to read Jocelyne Rinker's name I knew that I was in trouble. Unlike any other press box in recent years there was nobody standing beside me to ask for help. The biggest problem in doing any type of PA work is that if you make an error, unless someone helps you out you will then repeat said error. It urns out the correct way to say that is (joss-a-lin). To say that I missed that all 3 times would be an understatement and for this I sincerely  apologize to her and her family.

         With my goof behind us I will turn to the pitchers duel that played out in front of us, Claire Keyser of RCHS kept the home team off balance for most of the game while Hankins was her usual dominant self. Both hurlers went the distance for their team with Hankins fanning 14 and allowing just two base hits(one way a solo Home Run) and Keyser had her way with every batter not named Taylor Umberger. Umberger collected her third base hit of the game in the bottom of the 7th inning and it appeared that for the third time she would be stranded on base.

         Page was down to its final strike when Kirsten Hensley turned on the only mistake Keyser made on the day and launched an 0-2 pitch deep over the fence in left center field. In a blink of an eye a pending RCHS celebration turned into another home victory after Umberger and Hensley circled the bases, producing the 2-1 WALK off victory. A perfect conclusion to an entertaining couple of hours!

        The final WALK portion of the story is tied to the outfield fence where a stainless steel sign hangs honoring Bea and Charles Carter. Getting to WALK past that sign is equally satisfying as doing so to the sign on the front of the complex that reads Alan Knight Field. The day created a heartfelt memory during a rough patch. To  the people that say you can't go home - maybe they just need to WALK there!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

````As close as you can come to a Hollywood ending : Golden Bears fall in Kokomo to Cougars 11-10

 Kokomo, Indiana -

                 Tuesday started with the West Virginia Tech bus still making its way to the team Hotel and it would be quite the understatement to say that the quick turnaround for the 11:00 a.m. start had the Golden Bears looking like they were in need of hibernation.

                Twenty minutes into the scheduled double header the G-Bears found themselves trailing 9-0 to the Cougars before an out was recorded in the bottom of the second inning. With the team being one loss away from elimination in regards to the River States Conference post season it appeared that the biggest question remaining would not be if Tech would fall victim to a 10-run rule defeat but which inning would be the close out inning. Hope came in that the pitching would settle down in time to stop the bleeding in the second inning and then post four consecutive scoreless frames.

                 The deficit was still 9-1 when a Golden Bear found his way to home plate in the top of the fifth inning and one frame later Douglas Pollock (Paw-Lick) launched a 3-run home run in the top of the sixth we had ourselves a respectable score in 9-5. The 10 run rule was no longer in play but IU Kokomo still maintained a comfortable lead when the game reached the seventh inning stretch. The Cougars padded their lead by plating two runs in the home half of the seventh inning to push the lead back to six runs at 11-5.

                   Both teams failed to score in the eighth inning and when the top of the ninth finally was underway the G-Bears were facing a monumental task in needing to plate 6 runs to keep their season alive. There was hope to be felt when the first four Tech hitters reached base and down right excitement when Joshua Ramirez crushed a 2-run home run to left field. The Golden Bears continued to reach base one after the other and before anyone could catch their breathe the score stood at 11-10 with the tying run just 90 feet away at third base and the lead run standing on first base.

                    With possibly the greatest come from behind victory in the 13 year stint for Lawrence Nesselrodt at Tech  a single base hit away, the Cougars finally settled down and recorded the 27th and final out. Just like Brad Pitt and Chris Pratt in Moneyball, the game proved to be a great story but sadly the final step was never accomplished in the 11-10 defeat.

                     Closer Logan McClure was warming up in the bullpen in hopes of entering the game in the bottom of the ninth, in hopes of locking down one for the ages. Three hours earlier when the Cougars plated their ninth run before they made their fourth out the idea that McClure could be seen warming up was as far fetched as the team seeing Santa Claus in the dugout but these Golden Bears awoke from their slumber and flirted with a victory against the longest of odds.


Monday, April 26, 2021

Golden Bear Math Problem - 10 games / 9 Days / 4 States & Final Exams...

               The spring season for the West Virginia Tech Golden Bears has included a plethora of opponents that did not appear on the original schedule for Skipper Lawrence Nesselrodt and company.
                Mother Nature, Covid-19 and rotating home stadiums were just a few of the obstacles that have tried to take the air out of "Big Picture" Nesselrodt's balloon but the veteran refuses to give up the fight when it comes to his ballclub and their season.
                 " Out of crisis, there is opportunity." Nesselrodt said. "My Dad was a trucker back in the pre-GPS days and he always would say if you think you are going the wrong way and you drive a little further you will find that you are on the right path. Perseverance and Optimism are the keys to success."  
                  Ness will need all of the family optimism and a bushel of healthy arms as his G-Bears look to make up lost ground over the final 9 days of the River States Conference regular season. Mother Nature wanted to make sure she was able to show herself at least one more time as Saturday April 24th was lost due to a day long rain storm, turning a Friday / Saturday overnight trip into a pair of up and backs to the University Rio Grande.
                All RSC series are set up to be a three game pairing with one day holding a single 9 inning contest and the other a twin bill consisting of one 9 inning game followed by one 7 inning contest. Friday was originally set to be a spend the night in Ohio but it quickly became a pair of up and backs with the double header then slated for Sunday after the weather report dictated the change of plans.
                WVU-Tech headed into the home stretch needing a minimum of seven victories in the final 10 games to secure one of the six post season RSC tournament bids. The ten team league has been divided all season with IU-Southeast, Asbury and Point Park creating separation from the lower seven but six of the seven are still chasing the final three spots. Coaches and Athletic Directors have been working the phones trying to squeeze in the league games lost for various reasons.
                 Five of the 10 teams have played all 24 of their league games heading into the final week of the regular season but the other five have some serious work left to do. Nobody has more worked to do then the Golden Bears as Tech is four games short, while IU Kokomo needs to play three with Midway, Brescia and Ohio Christian each being one short.
                 The final series are all set for the following weekend so any of the 5 games postponed would have to be made up between Monday and Thursday (April 26th - April 29th). Easy enough to do until you break out your Rand McNally maps to see where the schools are located in comparison to each other. When you add the fact that the majority of the schools are either in the middle of their finals are closing in on the finish line.
                  Tech survived the up, back and then up and back to Rio spread over the weekend and thanks to the pitching of Wil Mullins in the series finale,, the Golden Bears are still alive in the chase. Heading into the nightcap against the Red Storm on Sunday the Golden Bears tragic number of elimination was reduced to one. Mullins pitched six of the seven innings in the 4-2 victory.
          "Wil Mullins performance was heroic on a day when we had to have it," Nesselrodt added. "It was the second time this season he stepped up and snapped a losing streak."
             What did the Golden Bears and Mullins reward for keeping the dream alive? After attending classes on Monday morning the team loaded up the bus for an eight hour ride to Kokomo, Indiana with the arrival time slated for just after Midnight on Monday night / Tuesday morning.
              That leaves time for a quick nap, if you will before the team breakfast at the Hotel and then a double header that starts at 11:00 a.m. local time. Immediately following the conclusion of the second game the team will grab a on the go meal before returning to the bus for the four hour plus ride down to Owensboro, Kentucky.
               Another night, another town, another hotel room sounds like it comes right out of Jackson Browne's finale on his Running on Empty album, Stay. One nine inning contest and then its back to the bus for the 409 mile trek back to Beckley. Thursday will feel like an off day by comparison as it will be just classes and practice before the regular scheduled weekend series with visiting Ohio Christian on Friday and Saturday.
               With apologies to Kevin Costner's movie, I will call this one "For the Love of the Game."

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Malamisura's and Bowen Field - It's a Family Thing

 Bluefield (VA) - One of the first things you will notice when you walk in to historic Bowen Field in Bluefield is a plaque hanging on the wall to the right honoring a lifetime of dedication from Patsy Malamisura. The current General Manager of the facility might pay just a bit more attention to the Memorial each day when he comes to work nowadays.

             Patrick is Patsy's son and to say he grew up in and around Bowen Field would be an understatement. Known to all that do business at the ballpark as Rocky, the younger Malamisura stepped up to his current title in early 2017.


               From shagging foul balls for a quarter apiece in the early days while his Father ran the baseball operations to returning to the top spot after retiring from his career at his day job, Rocky is known far and wide for his efforts in keeping baseball a huge part in this little corner of the State of Virginia.

               There's seldom a dull moment in the constant juggling of the various tenants that call Bowen Field home, either fulltime or the rare occasions where a team or organization looks to sneak in a game at the majestic park. The latest big project is well underway as the construction crew is hard at work trying to put the finishing touches on the new press box atop the stands behind home plate. The new box when finished will be a huge improvement of the current location on the third base line that is effected by the late afternoon setting.

                Rocky smiles when he talks about his family being involved with the stadium for seven decades now and its a safe bet that the community knows that their ballpark is in the best hands possible!

                Bluefield Daily Telegraph writer Tom Boone wrote a feature story on Rocky when he took over the position back on January 31, 2017.

                You can check out that article at www.bdtonline.com   

    

8 Years in between Posts ? It's safe to say that a great deal of life has happened !

 Ground Hog Mountain, Virginia -

                    I had to smile when I noticed that 8 years had transpired in between my final post in 2013 and the two latest ones from this week. After spending an amazing decade plus in the Northern part of God's own Valley I ended up off the Coast of Washington state in the San Juan Islands. There were a number of reasons that took me as far away from the Valley as one can go without actually leaving the Country but once Life allowed me to return we came back to the Old Dominion at the start of 2021.

                  A few things that have changed include the location of the family as following the passing of my beloved parents I wanted to return to their roots. Both of my parents grew up off different parts of US-58 that runs across the bottom of the state. Dad spent his early life in a spot near Buggs Island Lake, just outside of Clarksville while my Mom was raised at the other end of the 500 mile long highway near the Cumberland Gap. Harrogate, Tennessee might be the closest cluster of folks and Middlesboro, Kentucky would pass as the nearest "Big Place" unless you wanted to wonder out of the comforts and head all the way down to Knoxville.

                 I happily reached a point in my life where I could relocate to any spot in the Country or World for that fact and I decided on heading to a part of the Country that goes by the name Appalachia. I embrace the word Appalachia in the same manner that I did when someone would call me a Navy Brat as we were growing up. Loyalty is a BIG word in my World so trying to stay true to my upbringing by returning to a little place on the side of a mountain in between Mount Airy, North Carolina and Hillsville, Virginia.

                 Now that my work career is officially over I can devote my time to the one great passion that I have had in life - searching out special people and trying to tell their story, assuming they want it to be told! I have been writing for over 40 years now and the one constant is I always write in a positive light, with no exceptions. The early years of my life were heavily influenced by the words of one of the All-Time great storytellers in Jimmy Buffett.

                 Years before Buffett made a name for himself with his legions of Parrot heads he penned a song about how he would NEVER make his music for money but instead always make his music exactly how he wanted it to sound. If Buffett writes that same song now it would be laughable with his storied career but he wrote it when he was broke and just wanted to play his guitar and sing.

                My path down the road of writing had a very similar start in that I was fortunate enough to get a  chance to cover Sports for a large 7-Day newspaper while still in High School. I loved what I was doing and how I was doing it when my editor instructed me that if I wanted to be taken serious in this business that I would have to learn how to write in a manner that sounded like criticism. I proudly stood my ground and stated I would never write in a mean spirited manner. The conversation ended with my boss suggesting to me that I head down to the end of the street and apply at the weekly newspaper, were my passion for "Fluff" might find a home.

                Switching over to the neighboring St. Charles Journal allowed my writing style to continue for the remainder of my high school days but a serious career in journalism would never be in the cards for me. Just as my early mentor Buffett stated oh so elegantly roughly 50 years ago - I want to do my writing for me (and the subject of the writing).

                Over the years I have managed to have my work appear in close to twenty different publications across the Country and even managed to be the Sports Editor for a weekly publication in Virginia for a year. If I will mention that Buffett played a role in my writing style I would also need to mention that the person that bookends him is Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is often ripped for writing too smart which is simply hilarious to me as I can only hope to write half as smart as Sorkin has done for the past 20 to 30 years.

                There are no sponsors in connection to my blog and there is no plans for that to change. There is no concern for the ratings, if you will allow a couple of The Newsroom phrases to be dropped in from time to time. As Will would say throughout the 25 episodes - "I'm on a mission to civilize!"

                I welcome any and all readers to check in from time to time as I have but one goal in mind, search for POSITIVE stories and try to be as uplifting as possible every single day !!  

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Remember that time when an Empty Chair cost me a rare chance to visit with Bo Trumbo and Allen Fisher?

 Bluefield (VA) -

                 While watching the game of baseball has always been somewhat enjoyable to me I will admit to getting to swap stories about the great game of baseball is where true enjoyment come from. Getting to sit with the right person or people for a nine inning contest brings un-chartable joy to any afternoon or evening.

                 When I arrived at Bowen Field in beautiful Bluefield , Virginia I was looking forward to bumping into Allen Fisher after having shared a couple of days of baseball chatter with on Saturday and Sunday up in Princeton when the great folks up there allowed our Wandering Golden Bears to take camp there for our series with visiting Indiana University - Southeast.

It didn't take long for the stories to start flowing in the press box early on Saturday and they quickly spilled over into the action on Sunday. It's very seldom that I have trouble matching stories about the game with any individual that I cross paths with but Fisher was running laps around me the entire time.

            Fisher has spent a lifetime in the game of baseball through his role as Clubhouse Manager first for the Cincinnati Reds and later for the Tampa Bay Rays. The journey began back in the early 1990's when he took the position in Princeton for the Reds minor league affiliate and has now come full circle as he will be back in a Princeton clubhouse again this Summer for the new WhistlePigs.

           The best part of the two afternoons with Fisher is that we shared the same thought process when it comes to sharing stories - putting the emphasis on the ones that should make people smile. I am sure that Fisher has seen enough "wrong" to fill multiple books but he didn't go dark with a single story and this, for me is the purest form of story telling! Fisher had mentioned in passing that he would be making the ever so trek across US-460 from Princeton to Bluefield on Tuesday for our contest with the host Bluefield College Rams so I was excited to pick up where we left off over the weekend.

          Being that our Tuesday contest was a true road game versus other time this season we called Bowen Field our home, I knew that I would have limited responsibilities for the afternoon so I brought my keyboard along so that I could work on one of the features about Tech's Joe Goddard. A day full of typing about a modern day Hero in Goddard while only taking breaks to listen to Fisher talk about his lifetime in baseball sounded like a dream come true!

        Once I arrived at the park, carrying a keyboard and a gas station cup of coffee for Skipper Lawrence Nesselrodt I was quickly introduced to another larger than life baseball figure in Marion F. "Bo" Trumbo. To call Trumbo a legend in both the Valley League and all baseball would be comparable to saying Ben & Jerry's make ice cream. It was amazing to me that in my decade long run in the VBL had never brought me face to face with Trumbo before and I will admit that it brought a HUGE smile to my face when he acknowledged being familiar with some of my work in the VBL.

        I was only a brief moment into my conversation with Trumbo when Fisher happened to approach us and surprisingly I had the honor of introducing the pair as they had never met before. My day was getting better at an alarming rate as now I was going to get to sit between the two local legends of the game while creating a story about a third one in Goddard!

       Hanging out with Lawrence "Big Picture" Nesselrodt for 13 years was highlighted by who you might get to visit with on a given day and today I had won the lottery. All I had to take care of was one minor detail in that it was my job to go up to the press box and inform the Public Address announcer how to correctly pronounce two of our trickier names in Nesselrodt (Ness-el-wrote) and Jared Sermersheim (Sure-Mer-Sheim).

       I bolted up the steps to take care of this and noticed something both surprising and sad. The PA chair was empty which meant there would be no one calling the contest between the Rams and our Golden Bears. Baseball without sound isn't the same as baseball with a voice bringing the players up to the plate and keeping the fans in the loop.

     I quickly glance down to the VIP box and could tell Trumbo and Fisher were well into their dialogue and a second glance let me know that there was less than 50 people there to watch a Tuesday afternoon non-conference game. The third and final glance was back at the empty chair and thanks to the sound of Rick Barry in my head, I sat down and called the ballgame. The Rams won 6-1 and my participation in the conversation with Trumbo and Fisher was when I introduced them to the crowd in separate innings.

     I am not sure when the opportunity to converse with Trumbo or Fisher will come again or if it will ever present itself again but in a lifetime of trying to do what is right, it's not always easy, is it Rick ?


Monday, April 19, 2021

Life on the Road with Lawrence Nesselrodt and the West Virginia Tech Golden Bears

           After an unscheduled 15 day layoff due to Covid safety protocols (April 2nd-17th) the Golden Bears returned to the baseball diamond over the weekend by hosting #20(NAIA) Indiana- Southeast in Princeton, West Virginia. While the team came up on the short end of the scoreboard in all 3 contests against the visiting Grenadiers, getting back to playing the game they all Love proved to be a victory in its self.

         The 2021 schedule has been interrupted now on multiple occasions but nothing threatens to slow down the enthusiasm of Skipper Lawrence Nesselrodt. Ness will quickly tell anyone listening that "It's a Great Day for Golden Bear baseball."

        After returning up I-77 to their Beckley campus late Sunday night the Golden Bears will return to class today before taking to the road Tuesday morning for a non-conference twin bill at scenic Bluefield College (VA). Bowen Field will be the sight for a Golden Bears game for the third time this season but this time will be different and WVU-T will be the visitors on the scoreboard.

            The Golden Bears played down in Bluefield against the Rams back on March 17th as the visiting team, falling short 14-7. The team returned on March 29th but this time resided in the home dugout while hosting River States Conference foe Oakland City only to fall short on both ends of the double header.

            First pitch is slated for 1:00pm on Tuesday with Game 2 slated for 30-45 minutes after the conclusion of the first contest.

           In a separate piece of news Golden Bear senior Bob Funk claimed the top spot in the Annual "Getting my Senior Day Celebration" form turned in! Well Done Mr. Funk.

          Senior Day is currently slated for Saturday May 1st against Ohio Christian.