Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ryan Doherty excelling as a beach volleyball pro after minor league baseball career

Walking around the beach volleyball courts at last weekend’s AVP New York City Open at Hudson River Park, seven-foot-one Ryan Doherty seemed like the most obvious choice for a volleyball player. Long and lean with a standing reach that easily extends way over the net, Doherty appears to the casual observer that he’s spent a lifetime developing his volleyball skills. Little would they know that Doherty is a relative newcomer to the sport who only started playing once the door was closed on a burgeoning professional baseball career.

Doherty recently sat down to discuss how he made the change from a minor league baseball player to an Olympic hopeful in beach volleyball with no prior experience playing on the sand.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Anthony Iapoce returns home to Queens roots as a member of the Chicago Cubs

Anthony Iapoce, the current special assistant to Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, returned to his Queens roots in a major league uniform just prior to the All-Star break at Citi Field. Iapoce was in the dugout sporting a major league uniform to keep an eye on the Cubs prospect rich lineup that included Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Jorge Soler.

Anthony Iapoce / N. Diunte

The 1991 Monsignor McClancy graduate and Hall of Famer took a few minutes to sit down with me to discuss his current role with the Cubs and what it meant for him to be on the major league field so close to where he grew up.

"Astoria native Iapoce hits the big leagues." - TimesLedger Newspapers

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lou Boudreau Documentary: Covering All The Bases

Lou Boudreau was a rarity in Major League Baseball. A talented shortstop with Hall of Fame credentials, he was the last player-manager to win a World Series, earning MVP honors in 1948 as his Cleveland Indians bested the Boston Braves in that year's Fall Classic. During his 15-year playing career, Boudreau led the American League eight times in fielding at shortstop, while posting a career .295 average with a walk-to-strikeout ratio of greater than two-to-one.

Lou Boudreau (r,) with Satchel Paige (l.) / Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

His granddaughter Jessica Boudreau created a wonderful tribute to her grandfather entitled, "Covering All the Bases: Lou Boudreau Documentary." The video features an in-depth interview with Ernie Banks, personal family photos, and explains how his grandchildren have kept the legacy of his number five alive after his 2001 passing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How Fritz Peterson was inches from bringing the American League to victory in the 1970 All Star Game

Fritz Peterson stood on the mound in the ninth inning of the 1970 All-Star Game, ahead 0-2 with one out against Willie McCovey. Looking for a ground ball double play to bring the American League to a 4-1 victory, find out how Peterson came within inches of sealing the deal and potentially changing the course of baseball history (and Ray Fosse's career).

This story and many others are told in Peterson's new book, "When the Yankees Were on the Fritz: Revisiting the Horace Clarke Era."

Fritz Peterson with Earl Weaver and Ray Fosse at the 1970 All Star Game

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mahlon Duckett, a tribute to the passing of a Negro League legend

Mahlon Duckett, one of the last living members of the Philadelphia Stars in the Negro Leagues, passed away Sunday at a Philadelphia area hospital. He was 92.

Duckett, a Philadelphia native who starred in track at Overbrook High School, was recruited an infielder with the Stars after playing semi-pro baseball for a local team. He shored up their infield for a decade from 1940-49 and finished his career in 1950 with the Homestead Grays as the league was on the decline. He was signed with the New York Giants in 1951, but whatever hopes he had of making the major leagues was derailed by a case of rheumatic fever right before he was to head out to training in Arizona. Sidelined for a year by the illness, his career was over.

Mahlon Duckett (center) at the 2008 Judy Johnson Tribute Night / N. Diunte

I first met Mr. Duckett in 2007 at the Wilmington Blue Rocks annual tribute to the Negro Leagues. Gregg Truitt, one of the chairs of the Judy Johnson Foundation graciously had me as a guest at his home for a pre-event ceremony with the players and their families. I sat down with him and after being greeted with a smile and handshake, we immediately connected. At the time, I was playing for the Roxborough Bandits, a semi-pro team in Philadelphia’s famed Penn-Del League. Once we started talking about the intricacies of playing the middle infield positions, I knew that I had made a friend.

Mahlon Duckett (r.) with the author in 2007 / N. Diunte

For the rest of the evening, I became Mr. Duckett’s go-to-guy, helping him get around the ballpark and on-field ceremonies. After the pre-game honors were done, I accompanied him to the autograph area, where I sat with him as he signed autographs for seven innings as a continuous stream of fans approached the table. During breaks in the action, we continued to talk baseball, as Duckett took pauses from signing just so he could finish telling me some of his vast encyclopedia of stories.

We stayed in touch after that evening, exchanging some photos from the event, a few letters in the mail, and subsequent phone calls. When I returned the next year, he told me that people who visited him at his assisted living home would always remark about the young gentleman in the photo with him. He said he was proud to display it.

In the following years, it became more difficult for Duckett to travel and slowly he watched his crew of fellow Philadelphia Stars dwindle with the passings of Bill Cash, Stanley Glenn, and Harold Gould. He made his final public appearance last month at the opening of the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Philadelphia.

We last spoke in 2013 and our talk returned to his career. Only 17-years-old when he joined the Stars, he told me that he was left to figure out most of the game by himself.

“In the Negro Leagues, you just played on your natural ability, that’s all,” he said during our 2013 telephone interview. “A couple of guys told me a lot of things that they thought would help me, but I never had any one individual say, ‘I’m taking you under my wing and teaching you this that and the other thing.’”

Some seventy years later, he chose to share one of his favorite stories that involved the great Satchel Paige. At an age when most ballplayers were trying to figure out graduating high school, an 18-year-old Duckett approached the plate with the game on the line against arguably the best pitcher in baseball history.

“I hit a game winning home run off of Satchel in Yankee Stadium in 1941,” he said. “I’ll never forget that; it was a great day, Yankee Stadium, about 45,000 people there. There were a lot of great things that happened in the Negro Leagues that a lot of people don’t know about. It was a great league with great ballplayers.”

For an excellent in-depth interview with Duckett, check out Brent P. Kelley's, "Voices From the Negro Leagues."

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Catching up with Brooklyn Dodger Don Demeter

Don Demeter was just 21 years old when he made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. Called up in September after hitting 41 home runs at Fort Worth in the Texas League, Walter Alston sent Demeter to the plate as a pinch hitter on September 18th. Overwhelmed by the experience, Demeter went right back to the dugout after three pitches.

"I didn't even take a swing," he said in Jonathan Arnold's SABR biography.

Determined not to repeat his statuesque figure at the plate, he told himself that he would swing at the first offering the next time he was up. The next day, the Dodgers were routing the St. Louis Cardinals 15-2 by the 8th inning. Alston went to his bench and inserted him in center field. At the bottom of the inning, he led off against Don Liddle. With the count 2-1, Demeter took a mighty swing at a fastball and deposited it in the stands. 

"The next night I got to pinch hit again and the first swing I took, I hit a home run," he said. "They put me in the Ebbets Hall of Fame because I have a .500 average in Ebbets Field."

Demeter made one more appearance for Brooklyn as a pinch hitter against the Pirates. It would be his last in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform. He had another stellar season in the minors in 1957, but with his St. Paul club going deep in the playoffs, there were only a few days left in the major league season when he finished. There would not be enough time for Demeter to play again in Brooklyn before they headed to California.

Starting in 1958, Demeter played the next 10 seasons in the majors, also spending time with the Phillies, Tigers, Red Sox, and Indians. He retired in 1967 with 163 home runs in 1109 games. Upon his return to Oklahoma City, Demeter entered the ministry, where he is now a pastor at the Grace Community Baptist Church.

Don Demeter (l.) with Tommy Lasorda (r.) in 2014 - David Greenwell
In 2014, he appeared with Tommy Lasorda to announce the Los Angeles Dodgers moving their Triple-A team to Oklahoma City. At the time of this writing, he's the third youngest living Brooklyn Dodger, with only Brooklyn natives Sandy Koufax and Bob Aspromonte (who ironically debuted in Demeter's home run game) as his juniors.

Below is a video with Demeter from grandson Kendrick, where he discusses his major league career and his transition to a man of the faith.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Narciso Elvira, former Brewers pitcher, rescued from kidnapping in Mexico

Narciso Elvira, the former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher who was reported missing in June, was rescued Friday, July 10, 2015 in Catemaco, Veracruz. The 47-year-old retired pitcher went missing almost a month before being safely returned from captivity from the authorities.

Click here to read the full English version of the details of Elvira's rescue.

Narciso Elvira with the Brewers in 1990

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Buddy Hicks, 87, played with the Detroit Tigers in 1956

Clarence “Buddy” Hicks, a former switch-hitting infielder with the Detroit Tigers in the 1950s, passed away December 8, 2014 in St. George, Utah due to complications from a fall. He was 87.
Hicks started his professional baseball career with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1944 after being plucked from the sandlots in California. He was signed before he was even old enough to vote.

Buddy Hicks with the Dodgers in 1949

Click here to read more about how 12 years later after a winding road of travels in the minors, Buddy Hicks finally became a major leaguer.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Masanori Murakami revisits the site of his major league debut

Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese player in the major leagues when he debuted for the San Francisco Giants on September 1, 1964 against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. Entering the game in the 8th inning as a relief pitcher for Alvin Dark's squad, the 20-year-old lefty quickly shut down the side for a scoreless slate.

Fast forward a half-century later, Murakami returned to the spot where he made his historical impact on the game, throwing out the first pitch on July 2nd, 2015 at Citi Field. His trip to New York was part of the celebration of the release of his English autobiography, "Mashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer," which is authored by Rob Fitts.

Masanori Murakami / N. Diunte

To Murakami's surprise, he encountered a familiar face at Citi Field in the form of Chicago Cubs pitcher, Tsuyoshi Wada. The Cubs import shares a special affiliation with Murakami, not only as a lefty, but also as an alum of the Softbank (Nankai) Hawks organization, the team Murakami primarily pitched for in Japan.

Murakami presents Wada a signed copy of his book / N. Diunte

The ceremony at Citi Field was a culmination of a three-day tour of New York City, which also included two book signings and multiple media interviews. His book tour has moved out to California, where he will be making appearances through July 11th. Below is video of Murakami throwing out the first pitch at Citi Field.