Posts Tagged ‘Major League Baseball’

Embracing The Struggle

June 23, 2014

Friday June 20th, 2014 – Sparta, WI

Yet another life lesson I continue to learn is that life lessons never stop at any age – and neither do problems. I’m sure my grandfather told me that at some point in my youth, but I was probably preoccupied with thinking I would be the exception to the rule and missed it. We all think that.

When we’re kids, we assume that life gets better and at some point everything is problem free. I remember being around seven or eight and knowing a couple of families in our neighborhood that had a house full of kids that were all older than me. The Lutes family lived on my block and the McCauleys lived across the street. They were friendly to me, and I knew most of them well.

I still remember walking around in the neighborhood talking with them and thinking how great their lives were. They all seemed so much older and fully matured at the time, but in reality they totally weren’t. They were regular people going through the same problems everybody else does.

Tim Lutes worked at Sears. I remember thinking he was a borderline celebrity because I’d seen him there on the sales floor with his name badge on when my grandparents were shopping. I was really impressed, and in my mind he had totally ‘made it’. He could buy all the candy he wanted.

His brother Cliff was into cars, and that was my greatest love besides sports. Cliff would work on his old Ford Fairlane in the driveway, and I would often wander over and keep him company. Looking back, he had the patience of a saint and would answer my deep probing dumb questions about how cars worked. He could have chased me away, but he didn’t. I thought he was a genius.

The McCauleys were my sports connection, and they were the first ones to let me play in their baseball games. I’m still not sure how many there were, but I do know they were all boys. I liked them all, and again they didn’t have to be nice to me but they were. They showed me how to not bat cross handed, and how to field a ground ball correctly. To me, they were all sports superstars.

They were all bigger than me, and could run faster, throw harder and hit better. I assumed they would all not only play Major League Baseball, but end up in the Hall of Fame. In reality, it was just a bunch of average kids that played baseball in summer just like the kids everywhere else.

Tim Lutes was never named CEO of Sears, nor was Cliff at Ford. None of the McCauleys ever played Major League Baseball, and as far as I know they’re all still alive and facing the same life problems everyone else does. They might be different problems, but they still need to be solved.

If and when they are, there will be a whole new set just around the corner and the process starts all over again. It’s the perpetual pile of problems that wear us all down, and I don’t see anything on the horizon to break the chain other than death. And who knows if that’s the end of the line?

The current lesson I am in the process of learning is that I will always have problems, and that I might as well learn to embrace them. The obstacles I faced as a kid seem pretty tame compared to what I’ve gone through in just these past few months, but they seemed insurmountable then.

I didn’t realize all I had going for me along with what I was trying to overcome, and I see now that none of us ever are without struggles – at least not for very long. Life is process of perpetual change and evolution, and then we each have to make our individual adjustments accordingly. It may not be fair, but that’s just the way life works. I’m receiving a new batch of problems. Yay!

Welcome to life, where everyone has problems to overcome. NO exceptions.

Welcome to life, where everyone has problems. NO exceptions.

Comedian Steve Baird

May 9, 2014

Thursday May 8th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

More sad news of a comedian passing away came today, and I have had about enough already. This has been one of if not the worst years I can ever remember for losing comedians, and today it was another funny nice guy named Steve Baird – yet one more I had worked with in my day.

It’s one thing to hear someone from one’s same city or state dies. It happens every day and that is sad enough, but rare is the case where it’s somebody one knows personally. I can look through the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel obituaries – and I occasionally do – but it’s hardly ever anybody I actually knew. Even when comedians die, it’s not always someone I had ever met one on one.

This year it has been one after another, and I’ve crossed paths with them all. First it was David Brenner, then John Pinette. Then it was ventriloquist Otto Petersen of “Otto and George”, now Steve Baird. I know everyone’s number comes up eventually, but this has been way too many.

The camaraderie between comedians runs shallow and deep at the same time. We often pair up randomly when we are hired to work the same venue anywhere from a night to a weekend to the entire week. Many times we’re thrown together to share an apartment for a week, and that’s how our bonds either form or they don’t. I have always gotten along great with most other comedians.

There are a few turds in the litter box, but that percentage is amazingly low. Most road warriors have a respect for one another because we know how hard it is to hack out a living how we do it, and more often than not a mutual respect develops in a very short time. If someone happens to be the real deal, it shows almost immediately. There’s a vibe there, and a kindred soul recognizes it.

Steve Baird and I weren’t as tight as I am with a lot of comics, but I had nothing but respect for him, and thought he was a funny act. He was from Indianapolis originally, but moved to Florida in recent years and I hadn’t talked to him other than when he’d asked me about teaching his own comedy classes. I had no problem with that as he was more than competent, so I helped him out.

I’d never begrudge someone from making extra money hustling legitimately. He wasn’t taking business from me in Florida when I’m in Chicago so I sent him my lesson plans to look over and wished him well. He thanked me profusely, and I was glad to do it. I respected him as somebody who had paid dues and I liked him as a person as well. He had a dry wit and he made me laugh.

There’s a human side to comedians that the public rarely if ever sees, and I’m not sure if they’d want to. We’re painfully human like everyone else, and our lives are not a constant laugh festival where the party never ends. Quite often our lives are loaded with more problems than anybody.

Jim Bouton wrote about that human side of athletes in his book “Ball Four”, and got himself in a flaming heap of trouble for it. Mickey Mantle was moody and drank a bit. So? He was a human being, but the public wants to see their heroes as being infallible and perfect. It may be different in the internet generation, but it used to be taboo. Comedians were in that off limits category too.

Every Major League ball player isn’t famous for a lifetime, and in fact most aren’t remembered at all outside the towns they played in. Comedy is the same. There are hundreds if not thousands of comedians I’ve crossed paths with that will never be famous to the public but I think the world of as people. They chose a hard profession, and that alone earns my respect. Steve Baird was one in that group, and I am crushed to hear this news. He was funny, friendly and he’s gone too soon.

Another funny comedian has passed away far too soon. Steve Baird and I worked together on several occasions. I'm very saddened to hear of his passing.

Another funny comedian has passed away far too soon. Steve Baird and I worked together on several occasions. I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing.

Like Bert Campaneris

September 9, 2013

Sunday September 8th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   On this date in 1965, Kansas City Athletics shortstop Bert Campaneris became the first player in Major League Baseball history to play all nine positions in a single game. That’s a remarkable feat, but what made it even more amazing was that when he pitched he threw ambidextrously.

   Apparently he threw right handed to the right handed batters and left handed to the lefties. I’ve never heard of that before or since, and I always wondered why. As a kid, I tried throwing a ball with both hands but no matter how much I practiced, I couldn’t make it work. I’m a total lefty.

   A few players have done it since but only a few, like three or four. Bert Campaneris did it first, and has bragging rights for life. I don’t know who really cares all these years later, but I’ll bet his grandchildren have heard that story more times than they can count. They’re probably sick of it.

   I first read of this feat on the back of a baseball card when I was a kid, and it has always been a fascinating trivia tidbit. Once in a while if I’m with some fellow sports nut friends I’ll whip it out and more often than not it mystifies everyone. I should have something better to do, but I don’t.

   The reason I bring it up at all is that I feel a lot like Bert Campaneris with all the miscellaneous projects I’ve got going these days. I’m wearing a lot of hats, and am all over the field trying to be all things to all people. I know that’s a recipe for disaster as a rule, but I’m sure having fun at it.

   So far this year alone I’ve been a headlining comedian, hosted shows, done a storytelling show, been a radio talk show host on two stations, taught comedy classes in three places, did a one man show in Milwaukee that set attendance records and brought the King of Uranus character to life.

   Oh yes, I also finally finished production on the DVD project for James Wesley Jackson ‘The Enviromdian’ and arranged to get his website up and running at www.jameswesleyjackson.com. That took a lot longer than I thought, but I guess a lot of the other things did too. But I did them.

   Bert Campaneris didn’t set any significant baseball records during this particular game, but he didn’t embarrass himself either. He showed enough proficiency at each position to at least play it for a single inning in a Major League game. There aren’t many who can play even one position.

   So what did this stunt do for him? Not much actually. He went on to a long and above average career, and ended up being an all star six times out of his nineteen years playing. That must have netted him a nice pension, and he’s still alive at 71 to spend it. He lives in Scottsdale, AZ where he conducts baseball camps, and participates in Old-Timers games around the country. Not bad.

   It sounds like he has a pretty good life. That’s all I ever wanted as well. I bet Bert Campaneris doesn’t have to worry about paying his bills every month. He is still known for a gimmick he did in 1965, but he eventually settled in and had a solid career as a shortstop. I want to settle in also.

   I’m not embarrassing myself with all these projects, but I’m not able to do them as thoroughly as they probably need to be done either. Like Bert Campaneris, I need to settle into one position.

All nine positions in one game. Pretty impressive!

All nine positions in one game. Pretty impressive!