Tonight’s game between the Road Warrior Black Sox and the Washington WildThings was the reason Indy Ball Island was created.
The two teams played the first game in a best of 3 semi-final playoff series to determine which team will move on to the championship series next weekend. The league, created by the WildThings with help from Joe Torre and the Black Sox, was thrown together as a 4 team/1 stadium deal to bring baseball to Western Pennsylvania during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two teams (the WildThings and the Slammin’ Sammies) are ran and operated by the WildThings. The other two teams (Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox) were put together through Joe Torre, PJ Phillips and the Black Sox Road Warriors touring league.
The Black Sox players do not get paid. In fact, the players usually pay a fee to be in the Black Sox camps. They are also tasked with finding and paying for housing. The guys often struggle to find affordable living arrangements for the entire season, so they bounce around from place to place while trying to scrape up enough money to pay for food. Some even take on jobs as Uber or Door Dash drivers just to make ends meet in between practice and games.
They are often seen as the underdogs. The guys who didn’t have a chance to make it. The guys who weren’t good enough.
Winning a game against THE team that created the whole league would be an upset. They aren’t supposed to win. They aren’t the guys the (socially distanced) fans are there to see. No. They’re the nobodies.
But not to me… Not on this island.
We don’t believe in upsets and underdogs here. Why? Because I know their stories. Everyone has one. And to still be playing baseball for no pay in the middle of a pandemic, you have to have something else too…
A true love for the game.
Now don’t get me wrong, every baseball player in indy ball must possess these things. But these guys might just have a little more.
They have a chip on their shoulders. A desire to prove everyone wrong. I’ve been in the dugout with the Black Sox players over the years. I know the passion that they have for the game of baseball.
I’ve followed these players for years. I’ve seen all their highs and lows play out in leagues like the Pecos and Pacific through their social media and nightly box scores. These are “my boys.”
I’ve helped some of them link up with Joe and the Black Sox. I’ve fed some of them when they came to town as visitors in the Frontier League. I’ve watched them get called up and been there to let them vent when they got released.
They are the ones I root for. The players who I cheer for. The ones I want to see succeed.
They don’t want to be considered “the Cinderella story.” No, they just want to be seen as winners.
And tonight… the Black Sox were winners. The team defeated the WildThings 16-5. If they win tomorrow, they will “upset” the home team and move on to the championship series.
During the 9th inning, I turned to one of the Black Sox players who played in the earlier game as part of the Baseball Brilliance team and said… “This is why I created Indy Ball Island. For nights like this.”
TC is back for round 2 of Broadcasting Baseball with some stories from the broadcast booth!
So, now I am really looking for things to keep my mind on baseball since the season should be underway. While it appears that some indy leagues and summer leagues are going to be playing in some capacity, I still long for the daily interaction with a group.
If you missed my first entry and my introduction, here it is.
That gives a background for some of the stories that I will go into during this post. Since I last wrote my basement flooded with the wonderful late spring weather we got here in the upper Midwest. Yay! That would be why I haven’t done a Quarantine Cards in a while either. But I also found a couple more Frontier League alumni in my card collection as I was going through them with Brendan Donnelly, D.J. Carrasco and Chris Oxspring. If you missed my quest to find cards for all Frontier League alums in the big leagues that was also in the first post.
If you are hungry for baseball, I broadcast a virtual home opener for the Schaumburg Boomers where I was joined by former players and coaches while MLB The Show 20 simulated the home opener. While doing some play-by-play, we mostly talked about time in baseball swapping stories of All-Star games, championships, teammates and whatnot. I know several other teams did virtual openers as well so if you crave baseball you can check them out. It was a lot of fun but also very uniquely challenging which was why I was glad to be able to do interviews during the game instead of a straight broadcast.
There’s always that one minor league baseball story right? So, for this post I thought I would write about strange things that have happened during my 12 years behind the mike, think of reasons for delays, stuff that has happened during a game and the like. Nothing to do with the game itself per se but things that affected the game. I’ll try and keep it as chronological as I can and I know that more stories will arise over the coming days. I imagine quite a few of you out there have some good stories to share as well so send me a tweet, @tcpopcorn and tag @IndyBallIsland as well. I came up with this idea after a tag on twitter from some broadcast friends of mine who were talking about random fans entering their broadcast booth during games (note, this is actually a semi-common occurrence in several Frontier League press boxes – Also shout out to Joe Brand, formerly an indy leaguer with Windy City and Traverse City and now with Kane County, and Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, Windy City turned Lansing).
Strangely a lot of these stories I recall from my early days of broadcasting, perhaps nothing exciting has happened recently or these are just tough to follow.
My second ever game behind the mike in indy ball was in Kalamazoo, Michigan as the Traverse City Beach Bums faced the Kings in a day game following the season opener. There was no power to the stadium that day because an animal, a squirrel I believe, or maybe it was a raccoon or something like that chewed through one of the city’s power lines. Because it was a day game the contest was able to go on. Had that been at night there would have been no way. I think the power came on in like the fifth inning or so. My backup broadcast equipment was battery powered so I was still able to be on air despite the rodent trouble.
Early in the 2008 season the Beach Bums were in Chicago for a series with Windy City (Jesse G-S broadcast for the ThunderBolts that year). I have no recollection if the game was actually played but I remember it was on the day of one of the triple crown races (Shout out to my fellow handicappers out there). If you are from the Midwest or have been around at all you know the weather can get atrocious. This particular day there was a tornado warning. My wife was with me. I just asked her to recall the event and she said, You mean the time when you were chasing the tornado and everyone else was in the clubhouse? Hahaha…yeah, I’m that guy. My wife was with me because I was obviously living in Traverse City at the time so she came to all the games in Chicagoland (At the time just Rockford and Windy City were in the Chicago area). I remember calling her in the press box and telling her to get down here as I had gone down to do my pregame interview and check on the weather. I also recall a pitcher from Oklahoma who was up in the upper deck on the phone as this was happening (As you may know getting privacy for a phone call in the clubhouse is like impossible). I just figured it was because he was from Oklahoma and tornadoes were no big deal. Nope, he told me he was terrified but was not going to have a chance to get down in time. Well, I do remember that the tornado never came near the ballpark even though it was in the area. One of my interns from early in my time with the Boomers texted me a picture of a tornado over the wall in left field during one of his first games broadcasting in the Texas League.
I think also in 2008 was the infamous skunk delay in Washington. At the time, Washington was a grass field and the bullpens were behind the outfield wall. Most fields in the Frontier League now are turf, although I haven’t been to the five newcomers from the Can-Am League yet obviously. A skunk somehow made its way on to the outfield grass. I think the game was halted for like 20 minutes as attempts were made to usher the skunk off the field without startling it. Our centerfielder was somehow able to shoo the skunk slowly around the outfield while everyone watched in amazement, or perhaps waiting for the inevitable, which never came. Meanwhile the bullpen door opened and the skunk ended up easing into the visiting bullpen in left field, no idea what the pitchers were doing, perhaps they hid in the clubhouse upon seeing the iron will of our centerfielder.
Mike Radomski quickly became one of my best friends in the world. Any post about Mike is worth an entire column in an of itself, you see Mike, who was the longest tenured broadcaster in the history of the Evansville Otters, passed away in a car accident in 2017. Recalling that day and that week still brings a tear to my eye (I now end all my broadcasts with his patented sign-off, Rock the Planet, putting my own little twist on it to add my friends at the end, which is how I feel everyone who is tuning in to a broadcast is to me, see, I could go on forever about Mike). But one of my favorite Mike stories and one that the two of us liked to share frequently is that our friendship began because of a delay. In 2010 when I was broadcasting for Lake Erie the team was in Evansville for a series. If you aren’t familiar with Bosse Field it is the third oldest park still hosting professional baseball (Wrigley and Fenway). In fact, one of the things Evansville was looking forward to showcasing this year and hopefully will still have the opportunity to, is ballpark renovations with a new lighting system. At some point in the game the light tower on the first base side completely conked out. The rest of the field was fine, but you couldn’t see anything on the first base side. This prompted a suspension of the game and a half doubleheader the next day. If you remember my Windy City reference about being adventurous, Mike was very similar. The two of us actually went up on the roof of Bosse Field to walk around and check out the situation first-hand in order to be able to give an accurate description to the listening audience. Hence the two of us watching electricians try to do work. Still a cool moment that the two of us always looked at as the beginning of a great friendship.
There’s another great story from Evansville in 2012 that resulted in a rainout, but I’ll save that one for the book, am I right Zane? Just suffice it to say in the words of Schaumburg’s musically inclined third baseman that year, we got rained the f**k out on the Fourth of July. The ensuing rainout resulted in my walking two miles by myself along the train tracks looking like a hobo I am sure to go see Ted (Best comedy ever?). Probably not the first time I have taken a random long stroll through a Frontier League city and certainly not the last.
Speaking of tornadoes, we had a microburst come through in Schaumburg before a game in 2012. I remember sitting in the booth thinking NBD as this front approached pregame and then running out of my booth as my closed windows were literally flapping back and forth. It was so windy that one of the team’s inflatables in left field was literally ripped off the ground and sent through a fence fully inflated. The metal stakes of the inflatable crashed through the windshield of a parked car in the lot belonging to one of our stadium ushers (objects crashing into cars could be an entire other blog post, am I right Gateway?). Needless to say both the fence and inflatable didn’t make it past that day as the inflatable literally had ripped through the fence.
Another Evansville story comes from 2013, which Mike conveniently titled, Dirty Plate Stalemate. I think about 10 minutes transpired in this delay. I don’t remember what prompted the ejection, but I remember the home plate umpire refusing to clean the plate after Evansville skipper Andy McCauley kicked dirt on the plate. I believe there was a rookie pitcher and catcher and neither would clean the plate until literally the umpire finally caved after about 10 minutes and the game resumed.
There have been multiple games that were delayed due to laundry not being completely dried. Shout out to all the clubbies in the world, talk about a difficult gig in sports. I bet there could be hundreds of clubbie stories as well.
The 2008 Frontier League Championship Series was delayed an entire day and moved locations due to a flood. The Kalamazoo Kings had earned homefield advantage, but their field was under three feet of water as a river was right behind the outfield wall. The series was shifted to Windy City (Remember Jesse G-S?) and the ThunderBolts went on to win a second straight league title. On Facebook I am the moderator of a Frontier League History Group that you should go check out for photos, stories and memories from league history that has been growing during the pandemic and there are pictures of the field underwater on there (By the way, who knew how many league related items I have collected during my tenure, wow!).
Below are the highlights of some others that came through on Twitter, and as always, share yours as well!
A game where wind and weather resulted in shallow routine pop-ups turned into triples and runs. A 17-inning contest featuring seven ties and lead changes after the eighth. Fires in buildings just beyond the outfield. A delay after a game started because the bases weren’t changed from little league bases. A presidential rally closing the highway for a motorcade that prevented an umpire from reaching the field.
Writing and sharing stories about Independent Baseball.