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The gift of baseball

Luca,

Our family is a baseball family. The Martinez clan has been in the States for 50 years now. Our shared lineage owes its "American" roots to our grandfather, Pablo Martinez Sr. He came here as a brasero first and then uprooted our family and brought them to the southwest side of Chicago to settle down. There your father was born into the deep traditions of our people and our family, one of which is baseball.

One day your father will tell you stories which seem absurd ("Grandpa left me in the car while I was sleeping in the parking lot of Comiskey") but whose factual content can be confirmed by several members of our family. He was given the game by his father who shared with him the deep history of baseball as it was in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Your father, Pablo Jr., and grandfather, Pablo Sr., then played a key role in passing down the game to me via the tools to play the game, the tickets to watch the game, and the stories to give the game flavor, context, and romance.

This is what we do, and what I hope we will continue to do. We pass down the game from one generation to the next as a form of oral storytelling and festive gift giving. We share baseball across a few generations now. You'll never meet your father's father, but his memory and image burns vividly in our consciousness and for me part of those memories is fondly tied to this game. Given your father I suspect you'll be raised as a White Sox fan but I'll try not to hold that against you; like me you had no choice in your developmental years.

One day I'll tell you about the time we would drive around in his navy blue Ford Taurus on hot summer excursions to the hardware store as he would regale me with stories of Moose Skowron and Wilbur Wood.

One day I'll share with you the memories of playing catch with our grandfather when I was 10. He didn't have a mitt that fit him so he'd catch bare handed.

One day you'll see the Old Comiskey seats we own as a family, and no doubt as a native son of Washington DC you'll see your fair share of exciting baseball at Nats Park.

But today, on Christmas Eve, on behalf of the Martinez family, I simply give you the game. I hope you grow to love it.

thegame

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  • Mauricio, my grandfather played "semi-pro" as a "Yahoo" in Chicago back in the 1920's. He told me stories of the games and also of Ruth, Johnson, and Grove. I played catch with him when he was still in his eighties(which taught me control as he couldn't run after my bad throws). Those stories ignited my love of the game, and I thank you for the article.

  • I had the gift of baseball in my family history as well. My Mom's side Cubs and Sox, Dads all Cubs all the time. Still a big topic of conversation at family gatherings including funerals and weddings. What a game!

  • Happy holidays to everyone!

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Happy Holidays Toby!

  • I think this is the reason why Baseball means so much to many of us. It was handed down to us by our Fathers and it was handed down to them buy their Fathers.

    I could fill this blog with great stories of my Dad taking me to Wrigley Field to see Cub games. It was our bond as a kid and also as I grew up. One of the great things my Father taught me was to keep score at games and I continue that tradition with EVERY game I go to. I can add those score cards to the collection of my Father, which goes back to the mid 1940's. Those score cards tell a story in and of themselves.

    I love this game, and the main reason is that I shared it with my Father.

    Thanks Dad.

  • Thanks for the story Mauricio. Our family was more of a soccer family before coming to the U.S. My dad was born in Brazil, so that's not surprising. But since coming here he's become a bigger baseball fan and I remember he took me to my first game when I was 5. Steve Stone was on the mound and he gave up 5 HRs to the Big Red Machine. Not a great way to start my life as a Cubs fan but I always say if that didn't dissuade me, nothing will.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    The Steve Stone part of your story reminds me of one of my favorite Ron Santo moments.

    Santo was bitter about being traded across town for Stone til the day he died. Once, when the two were both employed by WGN, Stone penned an article called the Art of Winning (or something similar). Pat Hughes mentioned it on the air, to which Santo repeated the title, then added, "How the heII would HE know?"

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Haha! Ahh, Ronny. He was one of my dad's favorite players but I never got a chance to see him play with the Cubs. I don't blame him for being angry -- he bled Cubs blue, trading him to the White Sox was an insult!

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    My grandfather didn't like him for some reason. He used to call santo "The Flopper" because he'd dive for balls when they were out of reach or past him to make himself look good. I'm too young to remember if this were true or not, but I've never heard anyone else say it. I did see Johnny bench do something like that a few times when the Reds experimented with him at 3B, however. Who knows, maybe Gramps mixed up his meds and got the two confused.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Haha! My dad liked random players. Seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it. Loved Kerry Wood, Shawon Dunston, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo, but didn't care for Ryne Sandberg, Ryan Dempster, Sammy Sosa, or Andre Dawson (well, he liked them until they signed their second contract with the team, so maybe that had something to do with it). He also saw a declining Ernie Banks so he wasn't too crazy about him either.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I have always liked "Random Player" as well. When I was a kid, I liked Atlanta pitcher Mike Beard (perhaps because he looked a bit like my older brother) and outfielder Claudell Washington, Cubs/Astros utility man Rob Sperring and Joe Furguson of the Dodgers.

  • Beautiful story/writing Mauricio. My dad took me to my first Cubs game when I was 14, which was the magical '84 season. Thad Bosley tossed me up a batting practice ball. When my dad was dying of cancer, I wrote a letter to Ron Santo, telling him I was bringing him to his last cubs game, and if he could shake his hand. Ron wrote me back and invited us to the booth. It was baseball heaven if only for 15 minutes.

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    I was 5 years old when I came to this country as an immigrant. I spoke no English at all. My parents were students at the U of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Although this was before Superstation WGN, there was a local station called WWJ-TV that must have had some affiliation with WGN, because they broadcast a local version of Bozo's Circus; I would come home from kindergarten at noon, immediately turn on the black and white GE TV and watch Bozo. Then one day Bozo wasn't on, it was these guys playing this game, hitting a ball with a stick and running like crazy in a circle. I would think, this is just an ad - a long, long ad - Bozo will be on in a minute. And pretty soon i had sat through an entire Cub game, and then another and another. I got to recognize some of the players, like the tall skinny dark skinned man whose fingers kept moving on the stick before he hit the ball a long way. And then some days Bozo would be on like usual, and other days he wouldn't - but each day I'd stick it out, waiting for that game to be over and Bozo to come on.

    Thus over the course of several months, Jack Brickhouse had not only taught me the rules of baseball, but also how to speak english. I probably owe my Midwest accent to Jack Brickhouse. If anyone can explain to me to me why WWJ in Detroit, Michigan was broadcasting Cub games in 1966, I'd be grateful.

    The epilogue is, in 1985 I was at McCormick place riding the up escalator. I couldn't see the face of the tall man three steps above me, but I could hear his voice as he talked to his companion, and that voice was hard-wired into my brain. I shook Jack Brickhouse's hand, but I was totally unprepared when he looked at me and asked my name. Why would he care? Of course in the big scheme he didn't, but in that moment he truly did. I wish I had had the wherewithal to tell him the story I just told you, but I was too tongue-tied. One day I'd like to relate it to Scott Simon of NPR, who grew up with Jack Brickhouse as his "Uncle Jack."

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Thanks for sharing SKMD, I remember we talked about our similar experiences in the past. I was born here but only shortly after my parents arrived from South America. My mom always told me stories of how I'd be glued to the TV to watch Sesame Street. She could hardly distract me. I was determined to learn English. My dad spoke much more English than my mom, so I would practice with him once he got home from work. As young kids do, I picked it up quickly and not long after, baseball became the main topic of discussion with my father. I would memorize stats from every ball player in my baseball card collection as well as the results from each day game, so that when my father came home, I would relay the game summary to him in what was probably much more detail than necessary. I suppose I owe my love of language and numbers -- at least in part -- to baseball.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    you know, whenever I get asked about a ball player from the 60's or 70's I bring up a mental picture of his baseball card, and that jogs my memory. Sonny Jackson, Bob Watson, Paul Blair, Lindy McDaniel, Vida Blue, Bill Bonham, the list is endless - I can see those cards in my head right now. And they're in a box waiting for my 13 year old to start acting his age so I can trust him with them....My older boy, who can't tell Michael Jordon from Michael Jackson, is nonetheless saving his glove for his own kids.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    My favorite card is a non-Cub and I too have an image forever burned in my brain. I had to trade for it since it was two years older than the time I started collecting cards. It is of Roberto Clemente in a white Pirates uni, wearing a helmet and flipping a baseball into the air with his right hand. I don't remember what card I traded to get because to me it was a steal.

    I've sold most of my cards. I collected them for fun, having no idea they'd actually hold value one day.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I grew up with Brickhouse and Bozo as well. My family played the hell out that game as Dad and Mom sharechopped a sand farm in Iroquois County south of Chicago. We had our own ballfield with the corncrib as our backstop. The whole family played and two of my sisters were more skilled than some of my high school teammates. Once a year Dad would take us and our friends to Wrigley. Mom would contribute bucket of fried yard birds. It was a big day!

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    In reply to 44slug:

    wow, so you had your own Field of Dreams!

    My wife was picked for the Grand Prize Game but was too shy to come down and play!

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    In reply to SKMD:

    Hey Hey! Atta boy, SKMD.

  • Nice post, Mauricio, very well done, makes me think of my own childhood and my playing days.

  • Merry Christmas all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Very cool. Thanks for sharing a powerful story.

  • In reply to Boogens:

    Meant for SKMD's comment.

  • Thanks all, and I love all the stories that are being shared. Keep them coming!

  • I feel it's our connection of growing up in families of Cub fans as children that unites our hope and loyalty as Cub fans. 1984 in 8th grade getting caught up in the Cubs love hype trained flip the switch for me from being a kid playing with his toys in the living room as his Dad watched Sutter or Smith come in to close a game on WGN to falling in love with the game and the Cubs with that incredible magical year of 84.

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    btw I'm planning a trip to iowa next summer to see a AAA game which I've never done - any tips would be helpful, and would be glad to try and coordinate with anyone here who is also planning that.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    We went there and we stayed at the Fort Des Moines hotel, which is pretty close to the park and it has a nice restaurant called DJango downstairs that serves what I would call casual French food. Also has a nice bar. I recommend the desert of French toast in bourbon bacon syrup with toasted pecans and vanilla gelato. I almost died.

    Also a fun place called Zombie Burger that serves gourmet style burgers and good beer.

    We'll probably go to an Iowa game at some point next year, so maybe we'll coordinate.

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    In reply to SKMD:

    It might be about 45 minutes or so (one way) out of the way, but I recommend you detour to Dyersville and visit the site of Field of Dreams, especially if you have kids. My son's travel team used to play annual tournaments in Waterloo and we'd always stop on Sunday afternoon on the way home. The kids actually get to play on the diamond and the photos of the boys walking out of the cornfield in their uniforms are priceless.

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    thanks mike and john for the tips. My older son has been accepted to Iowa for college so this might get to be a more regular thing - although's holding out for Minnesota (for the big city) and I'm holding out for Illinois (for the tuition!).

  • Very nice piece, Mauricio.

    The legacy of baseball is an amazing thing.

    My grandfather gave my father the nickname of "Plunk" when he was a tyke, based on his favorite player, Plunk Blake, who pitched in the negro leagues in the 20's. The name stuck until high school, when friends decided "Punk" was more appropriate, perhaps given my father's disposition.

    My father and uncle were both lefty pitchers. After WWII, my uncle went on to pitch in the Texas system for a period.

    Even though I am a righty, I bat lefty because I learned baseball from these two men. And thanks to my uncle, to this day, I can still throw a pretty decent screwball.

  • Patrick Mooney just did an interview with Shark. It's a good read.

    I maintain my stance that we will end up re-signing him unless someone gives up excess value which would be a top 25 (near MLB ready) prospect, a top 50-75 prospect plus a handle of lottery tickets. And I'm completely in favor with this as I still think he will take that next step and prove to be at least a solid #2, possible true ACE.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I'm totally fine with re-signing him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Serious question John, how much do you think the weight of the 2nd sell off and those frustrations led to his bad performances the last 2 months? I know we'll never really know. Even of the FO or Shark knew, they're not likely to say.

    But what kind of pitcher is he if he eliminates half of those "stinkers" from last year?

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I think those things are hard to quantify but hat very idea has been suggested to me by a very knowledgeable baseball mind from the industry. I'd like to see what he can do when every game is on the line. He's the kind of guy you want on your team in that situation.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It certainly makes you go hmmm... doesn't it?

    So what kind of pitcher is he if he eliminates half of those "stinkers" from last year? A solid #2?

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    Anyone remember any of the chants we used to sing at Wrigley? Hickman be a good Stickman? Peace, love, and a little bit of cubs?

  • Really wonderful article on the Cubs website about Javier Baez and his sister. I really hope this young man makes it big.

  • Nice article indeed. He's a good kid.

  • I know this is off subject but I just went over an old scouting report on robinson cano and if you read it he was not suppose to be anything special. I'm saying this because we often talk about what his tools grade out as and some scouts will tell you the player is nothing special or he does nothing special. But the player becomes cano, same with castro people say he has no special tools but the kid can play and could one day be a robinson cano.

  • I was at IU at Bloomington listening to the radio in 1975? the
    day they lost 22-23 to the Philies. Shawon Dunston and Leon
    Durham were my two favorite players. My father, from Mexico,
    was a Cleveland fan. Don't know why

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    In reply to emartinezjr:

    Must've been '77-78 because I was at Marquette listening to that game. 7-0 after 1/2 an inning, 7-7 an inning later....

  • Tanaka reports again. CBS is saying he will be posted but it's not yet official.

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    Mauricio, I would appreciate it if you. or anyone else could answer this question for me. Are players allowed, during a game, to have non-baseball related conversations? Say a twenty minute conversation about cars or something. What is the Cubs or other teams policy on that?
    Just wondering

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    In reply to Jim Pedigo:

    Absolutely. baseball is a long season, there's 10X more games than in the NFL, and the game is played at the same pace as chess, so to maintain "baseball only" focus and intensity for 9 innings, 162 times a year would be very mentally taxing. Guys talk about just about anything and pay attention to the game at the same time, stopping the chatter in crucial moments.
    And the bullpen is another story altogether. Some relievers (Farnsworth i.e.) nap thru much of the game and most of the conversations have nothing to do with baseball. Most bullpen guys know in all likelihood, their services won't be needed until the game is at least 60% over, and unlike the reserves in the dugout, relievers aren't surrounded by the nine guys actually in the game.

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    In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Thank you for that complete and comprehensive answer.

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    In reply to Jim Pedigo:

    You're welcome, Jim.

  • In reply to Jim Pedigo:

    I remember reading the book Ball Four when I was a young guy, and being shocked that ballplayers, instead of paying attention to the game, would be looking for hot chicks in the stands.

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    Here's another question. I have never seen a player about to leave the bench to go to the field, because his turn at bat is coming up, huddle with the hitting coach to go over possible strategies regarding the pitchers specific arsenal. I think that should happen. Does it? It seems like they put too much emphasis on not talking to batters so they keep their concentration.

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    In reply to Jim Pedigo:

    I believe there are meetings, usually before the start of a series between the pitching & bullpen coach and the pitchers, and the hitting coaches and position players. Then, most in-game stuff is just a quick reminder. you'll often see bullpen coach Lester Strode holding a clipboard, reminding the pitcher warming up of the scouting report on the hitter(s) he is about to face.
    A hitting coach may say something to an in-the-hole batter like, "Remember, he's been throwing the offspeed stuff on the first pitch lately." The reason you don't see much of it is because it only takes a second, and the cameras are usually focused on the action on the field.

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    In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Oops, should have said those meetings include pitchers AND catchers. And I should mention that players watch a lot of film these days, and from what I understand, catchers watch more than pitchers.

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    In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Thanks again.

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    No problem.

  • This is all great stuff. I go back to 1945 as a Cub Junkie. Baseball, however, is too slow and the season is far too long for my taste. I've been strung out on the Bears for even longer.

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