Monday, February 22, 2010

Our Own Field of Dreams...

I think most people I know do some kind of volunteer work. For some, it’s helping a cause they find worthy or assisting a non-profit organization. It might be helping with an event or just donating a little time or money. And most of us tend to jump in where our kids are concerned, helping out in classrooms or with their sports teams or other extra-curricular activities. The fun starts when you take that extra step and volunteer for a PTA committee or to be the coach of your kid’s team. The next thing you know you find yourself on the board of directors. It becomes part of your life, so you just keep going when they move along to high school.

This year I’m the president of the Claremont High baseball booster club. Overall, the ride’s been pretty fun, but a couple of weeks ago my son Sam decided he wasn’t interested in playing baseball at the high school anymore. He just wasn’t having fun playing anymore. Given my tremendous passion for the game and Sam’s truly natural talent, I’m sure the decision wasn’t easy for him. But it was his decision, and I’m proud of the way he handled it. I’m sad he won’t be playing baseball, but it feels good to see him happy. When the game is no longer fun, it’s time to find other adventures.

Nevertheless, I’m still the baseball booster club president, and that’s still something I enjoy. So as we embarked on the busiest part of our pre-season preparations, I had doubts as to how much I’d still enjoy my role.

Then came our alumni game and opening ceremonies on Saturday, Feb. 20. This event was something I helped revive last year, and I’ve been in charge of getting the former players back to participate in the game. Given the weather forecasts, we figured we’d be rained out. As much of the Bosson family gathered at our house on Friday night to celebrate Marilyn’s birthday, and with the rain pouring outside, we turned up the volume on the birthday party. But the overnight rain cleared on Saturday morning, and I was shocked to find myself headed to the ballpark for what will probably be the highlight event of the season for me.

From an event-planning standpoint, it was a great success, and the entire board and many volunteers who participated made that a reality. What made the event a true success and my day so fulfilling was that so many former players showed up. I felt absolute joy seeing the smiles on the faces of the guys in the alumni team dugout, while they jarred their memories for old stories and shared a lot of laughs.

The real stars of the day where the former CHS players who came back to reminisce and try to make the plays on the field.  A few of them had trouble staying on their feet, and I know there were a lot of sore muscles the next day. I sense the experience was probably worth it.

The highlight for me was seeing Ed Wolfe from the class of 1953 throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and then later watching him hit a line drive to second. He told me later that was first time he’d used an aluminum bat.

There were a number of guys who played in the alumni game last year, but quite a few new players this year. The event brought back generations of former players spanning eras from the 1970s through last year, with an especially strong turnout from the mid-1970s and from the class of 1992.

Here are some photos from the day (see the link).

Rather than let me tell the story, I’ll let a couple guys from the class of 1976 reflect on their experiences, as posted on their class Yahoo forum. This isn’t to give myself a pat on the back, but rather to share the events of the day through the eyes of two friends who really enjoyed themselves on Saturday...

From Rob Haerr…

“It all started with Sid Robinson ingesting mass quantities of spiritual nectar and performing anti-rain dances the night before and into the wee hours of the morning. The ceremony was disguised as a birthday party for Marilyn Bosson, but the rain during the night did a superb groundskeeping job in preparing the infield with the perfect amount of moisture. Sid's sacrifice for the team does not go unnoticed. Beth (Bosson) Robinson said his last words at 3 a.m. were..."I-love-you," or something like that. His energy was sapped.

I woke up at about 5 a.m. ... too dark to get up. My return to sleep took me into a dream of seeing some of the CHS ‘75 guys at the game...Matt Weinberg, Tim Helton, Danny Thomas, David Aguilera. To my surprise...Danny Thomas did show up. I immediately told him about the dream...funny stuff. Tim Helton passed away shortly after high school from a brain cancer I think...but lots of stories started flowing...great stuff. Other guys from '75 also showed...Brian Fitzgeralls, Mark Robertson. Both look great and it was very cool to catch up with their history.

I woke up again at 7 a.m. and the sun was shining! Before I was fully awake, I checked Facebook...Sid and Mil (Pompa) both said..."GAME ON SPREAD THE WORD!"

Coffee, oatmeal...Aleve.

The highlight of the day was meeting with CHS ‘53(!!!) baseball alumnus, Ed Wolfe. He warmed up with Danny Healey and I. We talked about how these kids have 3 or 4 uniforms, batting cages with pitching machines, nice park, dugouts, etc. He said, "I wore the exact same uniform my dad had worn 20 years earlier in 1932. Had his name still inside. It was about ‘this thick,’ made of wool." He threw out the first pitch. When his turn to bat came up...he hit a line shot to second base. Great stuff. I meant to ask him if our old Pony League field was the field they played on.

Other CHS ‘76ers Mike Woodley, Rocky Smith showed up and hung in the dugout. CHS ‘77ians Danny Brehaut, Dave Bosson (actually 1978), Paul Sokolowski came out (and Brian Zell was there, too). Great to see Paul...he still has a sweet swing. My brother, Kenny, was the lone CHS ‘78er to show up...he pitched and inning and played 3rd.

Brett Vondereith and Trish Young were there. Man, they look great. I have encouraged them both to chime in here. They were up for Mr Young's funeral. Mr Young was a fixture and wonderful man around all of our practices and games in our youth.

My (Ravelers) bandmates, Martie and Hai even came to give me a razzing and a birthday card. There was a nice crowd...and it was very nice to see Paul Sokolowki's parents...also fixtures at practices and games thru our youth.

I lasted an inning. Got a base hit, stole second (that catcher should get razzed for the rest of this season for that), then scored on a base hit down the right field line. As I started to round third, I felt a ‘pop’ in my left calf...pulled it pretty good. It's not like I was rippin' up the base path or small attempt at a burst of acceleration took it's toll on my 52-year-old original springs and bushings. My suspension parts are not what they used to be.

While warming up, Danny Thomas asked me, "Haerr, can you still run?"

"No." And I proved it.

Sokolowski did the same thing. Nurse Debinator gave Paul some information if he had torn his Achilles tendon or not. Hopefully he just pulled something like I did. Paul's Mom, "Mrs. Sok" was just shaking her head as she would have 35 years earlier...priceless. Mr. Sokolowski was always a hitting coach to all of us.

Mil looked great on the mound. I will let Mil tell more about the day from his view.

Looking forward to next year and who might walk up.

This is a great tradition that Sid has started!

...and Debi enjoyed making fun of our "glory days".

Mike Woodley so aptly said..."our brains are writing checks our bodies can't cash."

And here’s the day from Mil Pompa’s vantage point …

“On Wednesday when I did my last work out I had to do what any man would do. Make sure to watch Jackie Johnson on TV. Watch her weather report of course. I don't know what anyone else could be thinking? As she delivered her gloomy report of rain on Friday, drizzle on Saturday with rain till Sunday I knew there was only one thing to do. Yes, I check in with Swedish Thunder (the late Jon Erickson from CHS '76) and asked for a simple favor. In return I promised to dedicate one inning to him. Deal.

As it started to rain on Friday night I knew it was only going to be the pre-field dusting we would need. I finished my chicken dinner, mashed potato's and green bean dinner went upstairs and gazed out at the rain.

I woke up around 3 a.m. with a crazy dream of Sid Robinson and most of the Bossons huddled around a black cauldron smoking like the vile of Dr. Frankenstein. They were dressed in traditional Native dress and were dancing in a circle around the cauldron waving some smoking sage as they chanted and danced with desire. Beth Robinson read from some old tablet and a giant blue flash made me jump up out of my mid-nocturnal male testosterone period deep sleep. Uh, that's another story...anyway, I looked at the clock; it read 3 a.m. I gazed out of the window and saw the sky. The clouds seemed to be scooted along by some spiritual hand clearing off a table of cotton balls. I could see the stars start to twinkle and had that feeling that my simple favor had been granted and now it was up to me to keep my end of the deal.

My Saturday was filled with the pre-game ritual I had performed for over 22 years in Northern California: Two packs of Oatmeal, 1/2 cup of coffee, 1 cup of juice, two slices of peanut butter toast. Now off to La Puerta to take my daughter to her Opening Day Ceremony for her first softball game. My wife's helping me coach my daughter and due to the fact that we only found out two weeks ago there was no one to coach our team, My wife and I volunteered to coach. I wanted someone who wanted to coach, who wanted to teach the girls (6 and under)  and most of  all, make sure they all have a good time!

I arrived at the high school just as the this booming voice came over the P.A. system, "all alumni who have not signed in please do so by the cages, thank you." I walked through the gate, sign in and look up to see Danny Thomas! I HAD TO PINCH MYSELF! Then I see Brian Fitzgeralls! ANOTHER PINCH! Then I see Mark Robertson! ONE MORE PINCH AND NOW I BELIEVE IT! Then Rob, Ken, WHAT THE @#%$(*!!, Paul Sokolowski walks up, "hey old man!" What a sight!!

I have traveled back into time to see some of the best athletes come home. It now doesn't matter if I played or not. This was too good to be true and I am so upset with myself for not playing the year before. I now see Rocky (Smith), Mike Woodley and everyone else starts to file in: Davey (Bosson), George (Hernandez)… I could just go down the list! Meeting all the players and getting to sit in the dugout. That would of done if for me. I can't believe it's all real and the feeling of being back in the dugout brought back that old long-wristed magic.

The opening ceremonies were priceless and watching Eddie Wolfe throw out the first pitch was like I had stepped into a lost scene of Field of Dreams. We had a wonderful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by a local Claremont girl (Stephanie Inglese) who sang very well.

Game on:

Now what I have not said is that Sid Robinson has been in five places at once all during this time. He's taking pictures, he's making the lineup, he's getting everyone all the information at once. He's over by the announcer. That dream of the smoking cauldron came back for a flash, how did you do it Sid?! No doubt, the MVP!!!

The game started and it was interesting to see the method of pitching to ourselves. Simply put, when we batted, our pitcher pitched when the high school team was on the field and their pitcher pitched when they were at bat, we were on the field. Runs were scored on both sides and the show got going when it seemed one-by-one we started pulling up lame!! Ha Ha. Rob first, but hey don't think he didn't show up to play! He gave his all, hustled (cough, cough) out to second and I'm pretty sure made the first out defensively for us fielding a ground ball and throwing to first.  Ken Haerr hustles out, takes his cuts, throws an inning - what else could he do?!! Oh yeah, give 110% and pull a thigh muscle! BASEBALL - GOTTA LOVE IT!!

Paul Sokolowski was the best hitter I ever played with. Todd Ervin was the best, but I only got to play one year with him and no, he was not at the game. Paul was willing to pitch if we had no one to go. He was willing to go to first or just sit and hit. And hit he still can. His second at bat he singles to right. And during a delayed steal, he collapses in between first and second. He's puzzled why it felt as though during his attempt at a delayed-steal, the catcher threw the ball and hit him in the ankle? When he collapsed, I ran out to help him and in and this is what he told me. He then realized he pulled and Achilles when he tried to walk on it. It was funny ‘cause he was tagged out and ended the inning and Dan Brehaut tried to get the fans and teammates to forgive him for falling flat on his face innings earlier while fielding a very routine ground ball! I know there's pictures of that!

Ok, now my turn: I've been waiting to pitch cause I was hoping my wife and kids would arrive from the softball ceremonies to see me play but it's now the fifth inning and we have more than enough guys to pitch. I've been preparing for a month. Throwing the rock in my back yard, the same one I threw at my little brother in high school. Having a little brother was cool cause he was always up to a game of, "Dodge Rock." I also was doing push-ups in the shower and sorry Carrie, the damn camera lens kept fogging up to prove to you I was really doing them! Two trips around the park soccer field and 200 jumps on the jumping stick, everyday, I'm ready.

As I strut out to the mound I have this routine that I do but this time it was different. I just couldn't get that dream picture out of my mind, "those clouds being swept like cotton balls."

Dan Brehaut was first up. He begged me and bribed me to be easy on him and not bring it in on the hands (darn!) I couldn't help but smile as I took my warm ups with the high school catcher. I kind of felt weird flashing back to Cahuilla Park for a moment. Dan Brehaut scooted out of the way on the first pitch, which I tried to throw high and in but came in low! He moved pretty good and I wondered if his big bro, my buddy the late Burt Brehaut played Dodge Rock with him?!!

A couple of pitches later, he ground's out to third, one out. The next alum up I got to strike out on four pitches and the last hitter struck out on five pitches.

I thought to myself as I walked off the field, (geez Thunder, I think I was suppose to let them hit!) It was in slow motion and strangely silent as I walked off the mound. I raised my cap in thanks and got a huge roar from the fans and teams. There's no crying in baseball.


What a great day! Great weather! Great friends! And topping it off I got to meet Leslie, Robyn Floyd came up and said hello, Jennifer was there as well as lots of kids and to see the Sokolowski's, Rob's true in his words. Growing up in Claremont, if you played baseball, you knew the Sokolowski's! It had to be. There had to be. I'm not going to be convinced easily on this thought: Trish and Bret come to the game. Mr. Young, my mentor, his service was that day. I asked them why they came? "We were in town." No, Mr. Young and Thunder hooked up, made our day and brought together so many wonderful people!! No other way to explain it. Don't try.

Did I say there's no crying in baseball?

I can't wait for next year!

Moonlight (with a little help) Mil