Meeting Old Gator

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Gator Car.JPGAnyone who spends any time in the comments around here knows Old Gator.  He of the “Feesh,” “Macondo,” and the “horse meat and Velveeta sandwiches.”  I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but as commenters go I love him. He’s smart. He stirs up trouble. He throws bombs once in a while.  All kinds of great fun.  He also lives in Miami, so we arranged to meet up when I landed on Saturday.

Gator suggested a Cuban place near Little Havana. Good suggestion!  I had the ropa vieja and picked from a bunch of appetizers he ordered in Spanish.  I sometimes like to think that I can roughly follow people speaking Spanish, but I really can’t. At least when Cuban accents are involved and the Spanish speakers in question aren’t slowing it down for the dumb people from Ohio who aren’t exposed to it every day.  First thing Gator said to me when I sat down? “How’s it feel being in a foreign land?”  My answer: I like it, actually. At the risk of sounding all free-to-be-you-and-me about it, anyplace that doesn’t have some freakin’ diversity to it gets pretty boring pretty fast.  I don’t think I’d live in Little Havana if I moved to Miami some day, but I like that it’s there and lament just how homogeneous the Midwest can be.

After a couple hours of coffee, baseball talk, and Gator telling me three truly, truly awesome jokes that would get me fired in five seconds if I shared them here, I followed him a couple of miles east into the heart of Little Havana, where he wanted to show me something (the above pic is what it looks like to follow Old Gator through traffic).  The site where Jeffrey Loria’s monument to himself — the new Marlins’ ballpark — is being built.

Marlins ballpark construction.jpgThe overwhelming impression I got from it?  If anyone actually shows up to that ballpark, the traffic is going to be a nightmare.  It’s really right in the middle of — or at least on the edge of — a neighborhood consisting of small blocks, side streets, houses and two-story apartment buildings. Unlike other neighborhood ballparks like Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field, there is no mass transit to speak of.  There’s a freeway that runs nearby, but it’s an elevated affair, with little, curvy offramps that are not at all prepared to deal with heavy traffic flow.  Yes, they used to play football games there — it’s on the site of the old Orange Bowl — but there’s a big difference between throwing tens of thousands of cars into the area eight or ten times a year on the weekend and doing so 81 times a year any day of the week.  If they have a plan to deal with all that traffic, god love ’em, but it’s really hard to picture it from the way things look right now.

After scoping the construction site Gator and I sat in his car for a while and shot the breeze about baseball.  While a Feesh fan now, he was a Mets guy going back to the 60s, and had season tickets in Shea Stadium for years. He saw Willie Mays there in 1973. He watched Tom Seaver pitch and watched him get shipped out of town. He watched the ball go through Bill Buckner’s legs from a couple dozen yards away.  For all of Gator’s tangents and diversions in the comments section, the man is a baseball fan through and through, and a passionate and knowledgeable one at that.

After a bit we went our separate ways, as I had to get on the freeway up to Port St. Lucie. But before I left, he gave me two cds — the Cowboy Junkies’ “Pale Sun and Crescent Moon,” and an album called “Discount Fireworks” by a group called Over the Rhine, which, while they’re from Ohio too, I’ve never heard of (Gator was going to see them live that night).  He also gave me two books: a collection of criticism he edited about both the novel and the movie “No Country for Old Men” — Gator is more or less our nation’s foremost Cormac McCarthy expert — and a book called “Liberty Street: Encounters at Ground Zero” by Peter Josyph, who happens to be a friend of Gator’s.  I look forward to reading them both.

Two lessons here. First, it’s really awesome meeting readers, so maybe we’ll have to do some HBT meet-ups at some point. Second, while the awesomeness of meeting readers doesn’t depend on them giving me gifts, I ain’t gonna sneeze at ’em either.

With that my spring training dispatches are done for the day. Aaron and the guys will be checking in with other baseball news as usual, of course, but I have to get on the road to Fort Meyers, where I’ll be catching the Twins on Tuesday and the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Later Gators. 

Video: Jared Hoying gets shaken up after making a catch at the wall

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Rangers’ center fielder Jared Hoying put everything on the line to make a spectacular catch at the wall on Saturday, saving a run during the team’s eventual 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays. In the fifth inning, Kevin Pillar crushed a ball off of Yu Darvish, sending it 393 feet to the warning track in center field. It took Hoying 5.4 seconds to reach the ball, gloving it just before he crashed into the wall at full speed.

The center fielder was down on the field for several seconds and looked to be in considerable pain, drawing the attention of the Rangers’ training staff while he caught his breath. Postgame reports revealed that Hoying had not sustained any major or minor injuries during the crash, but simply needed time to recover after having the wind knocked out of him. He stayed in the game through the seventh inning and was able to field another two fly balls with little trouble, neither of them quite as dramatic as Pillar’s attempted hit off the wall.

With the loss, the Rangers now sit 9.5 games back of the division lead.

Former U.S. Senator and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning dies at age 85

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Jim Bunning, Hall of Fame right-handed pitcher and former U.S. Senator, died on Friday at age 85. He suffered a stroke in October 2016 and was in hospice care when he died, according to former Senate chief of staff Jon Deuser.

Bunning rose to prominence in Major League Baseball during his first full season with the Tigers in 1957, recording 14 complete games and a league-leading 20 wins. The following year, Bunning pitched his first career no-hitter against the Red Sox, just the fourth no-hitter in franchise history. During his first season with the Phillies in 1964, Bunning followed up his no-hitter with a perfect game against the Mets, marking the first National League perfecto in the 20th century. By the time he retired in 1971, he boasted seven All-Star nominations, 2,855 strikeouts (maintaining his second-place ranking on the all-time strikeout list from 1967-1971) and a 224-184 record over 17 seasons.

Following a storied major league career, Bunning entered politics at age 46, serving 12 years in the House and eventually getting elected to the Senate at age 67, where he served two terms. The Republican senator was famously outspoken for his opposition to steroids in baseball, illegal immigration and an extension of unemployment benefits, among other issues, and drew criticism within his party for his ornery nature and controversial statements. He declined to run for a third term in 2010, citing a lack of financial support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and choosing instead to throw his weight behind fellow candidate Rand Paul.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement following news of Bunning’s death on Saturday:

Jim Bunning led an extraordinary life in the National Pastime and in public service.  He was a consistent winner and workhorse pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies.  Jim threw no-hitters in both leagues, pitched a perfect game on Father’s Day in 1964 and, at his retirement, had more strikeouts than any pitcher in history except Walter Johnson.

“In his baseball career, Jim was proud of always taking the ball.  The work ethic that made him a Hall of Famer led him to the House of Representatives and the United Stated Senate.  He served the state of Kentucky for more than two decades and became the only Hall of Famer ever to serve in Congress.

“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest condolences to Senator Bunning’s family, friends, constituents and the many fans who admired his career in our game.