Planet Valenti News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, MARCH 29, 2012) — Someone told us they opened the Major League baseball season in Japan the other night. It came as news. We don’t follow MLB any more.

That admission surprises many people, even to this day. There are still a segment of readers who associated me with baseball. They think we follow every at bat. They are wrong. We have washed MLB  off our our hands.

‘Baseball Benn Berry, Berry Good to Me’

The business that used to be a game has long passed me by. I find it impossible to get excited about a team of unconditioned “athletes” who are paid and average of $3.5 million for six months work — and who generally bitch about it. Hockey and NFL? Can’t get enough.

Of course, to cop the words of Saturday Night Live‘s Chico Esuela, “Baseball been berry berry good to me.” First, it was good physically, mentally, and emotionally. THE PLANET spent most of a well-spent youth playing some version of baseball. In spring and summer, we played pick-up ball in our back yard and at Deming Park. When there weren’t enough guys for a game, three could play running the bases. Two could play roly-poly or Home Run Derby with Wiffle Ball. And if it was just me, myself, and I, we got out a rubber ball and retreated to the back porch steps, where for hours we would throw and catch, throw and catch. That’s how we got good with the glove, which was always the best part of my game.

Baseball later became of much practical good when, for a glorious decade in the 1980s, we earned a living as a baseball writer. We wrote a series of books that did well in the marketplace, and we supplemented that with newspaper, magazine, and broadcasting work. We still draw royalty checks from a couple of our books. What a gas it is for get paid for doing nothing. We got to meet many of the game’s legends. For two decades, we were business partners with Ken Coleman, Voice of the Red Sox, on various publishing and broadcast ventures. We got to see MLB from the inside, warts and all, a life that many fans used to dream about. To get to be a baseball bum and be paid for it was a career twist we never anticipated but gladly accepted with all the joy of a kid at Christmas.

We played organized ball — Little League and Babe Ruth League — and found them OK, but even with uniforms and all, the organized version, run by adults, couldn’t match the pick-up games, where kids were in control. The last thing we wanted hanging around was a pack of adults. Today, of course, it’s the opposite. Kids have lost their ability for spontaneous fun, and can only “play” under the horrific, pseudo, faux-MLB conditions that ones sees, for example, in Little League ball.

All that for a Handful of At Bats per Week

A venture into Deming Park these days reveals a park scarred by over-production and under-use. The South Little League, which has to be taught that it doesn’t own Deming Park, has taken the spontaneity and fun out of baseball. There’s a press box, a concession stands, an official warning track, painted foul poles, a sprinkler system, a parking lot … cease and anon, for it cuts too much to the quick! All that to get a kid a handful of at bats for about five weeks of the year. In pick-up ball, you’d get 50 at bats a day!

Back in the day, before kids lost their souls to video screens, parks like Deming were hives of activity. We can recall, for example, days when you couldn’t find an empty ball field at Deming. There were four official diamonds and two make shift versions, and on many summer days, all six were in use. You and your guys would have to wait until a field opened up or maybe you tried to get into an existing game.

You didn’t need a stinking permit from any commission. You showed up. You played ball. The South Little League didn’t own the Little League field. It was first come, first served for the most part.

MLB: An Exercise in Excess

Major League Baseball today, 37 years after free agency, has become an exercise in excess. Players bounce around from team to team, following the money. Agents aggravate the middle, playing player off of owners to the detriment of fans. Fans themselves do not understand the game they was they used to. Consequently, MLB presents a dumbed down, ruinously expensive version of the game, a slow, drawn out snore-fest artificially pumped up by settings: the new ballparks that resemble more amusement parks-cum-shopping mall than baseball fields.

Even the product on the field is watered down. After World War II, at the height, there were probably 8,000 minor league ball players in the 16 major league farm systems. They were competing for 400 big league jobs. Today, there are less than 2,000 minor leaguers competing for 700 jobs. As a result, what passes for big league ball today would be Triple A ball of the 1970s and prior. Today’s Triple A is what Double A ball used to be, and so on.

Kids are not playing ball, and those that do aren’t playing it well. There will always be exceptions, granted, but for the most part, these are the days when everyone makes the team, everyone gets a trophy, and everyone is told how good they are. There’s even a youth league in California that doesn’t keep score in games. Kids cannot strike out but they can walk. No one loses. The adults do this to prevent the irreparable damage that comes from being on the losing side, from striking out, or from not being good enough to make the team. Alarmingly, this is a growing trend: To make of youth Bubble Children, artificially protected (so we think) from life’s hurts.

Of course, what we’re seeing at work here is a microcosm of what’s wrong with Amerika today. We’ve lost our independence. We do not believe in manifest destiny. We have become, God help us, victims.

Today, we might pay attention if the Boston Red Sox get into the World Series, an annoying habit they have developed in the past decade, when they have swept to two world titles. Otherwise, we would as soon see the Houston Astros win on any given day. And with all that being written, let us say that there’s no a day that goes by that we don’t give thanks for the blessings given by baseball, that most pastoral of games. Though organized ball has tried its best to kill it, The Game will never die.

With that, we present a lovely guest piece from writer Paul Kocak, a life-long fan of the New York/San Francisco Giants, who a couple years ago finally got to see the Giants win it all.

—– 00 —–



Special to PLANET VALENTI Sports

Comparing our earthly existence to the next life, my namesake Saint Paul famously wrote, at least according to the King James Version, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” Well, the so-called Knothole enabled me and the other chosen few there to see through a fence brightly: the celestial dazzle of Game 1 of the 2010 World Series. The Knothole is simply a free viewing area behind right field of AT&T Park in San Francisco. Even the name evokes sentimental, Norman Rockwell-ish scenes of kids peering through a hole in a wooden fence to catch a free glimpse of baseball.

The Giants, at least theoretically, let in 100 to 125 people who stay for three innings and get shuffled out. So as I waited in line, I became part of a small community; you get to know a few folks. Some stayed; some bailed. Before the game, we saw the antics on McCovey Cove and then got soundly jolted by the roar of jets zooming by closely overhead as a part of a pregame display. Someone tossed a football from the Cove to us — great arm, “sign ’em up for the Niners!” — and and it.

went back and forth, with dramatically good tosses, until it landed a second time in one of the upper pews of the festive baseball cathedral, and remained there. We heard bits and pieces of John Legend singing the National Anthem. In the early innings, I heard Tony Bennett — really? in person? yes! — singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” a song that left me quietly sobbing with joy last year after our first game at AT&T. I was on the verge this time, but held it off. In the line, I met Dennis and Linda from Modesto in back of me, and we learned about some similarities in career paths and our shared Giants passion. (They later skipped off to near the Willie McCovey statue, but it was a treat to get a call from them when we Won It All.) Others, who were nameless, shared reports from transistor radios, supplementing the information we gleaned from crowd silence or roars. It was like the 1950s with radios sneaked into school, hidden in desks. A gray-haired guy perhaps a few years younger than myself reported on the Giants falling behind in the early going, 2-0; scared looks crossed our faces.

The line shuffled along, very slowly, almost imperceptibly at times, or not at all. I left the line briefly at one point — my place held for me by my new friends– to walk toward the front just to see if anyone was selling tickets. Nope. I traded calls and texts not only back East but with San Francisco-area contacts and friends. Others in the line scouted ahead more toward the center field section, along our waterfront promenade, only to report ominously that people were being allowed in to the Knothole from that end. Confusing. Chaotic. A bit dispiriting, which is why some bailed. Such as the stolid guy in front of me, such as Dennis and Linda, and the relative of the fellow directly in back of me (they got separated, one without a phone).

Our hope perked up when the Giants tied it at 2, and soon we had moved up close enough to catch action on TVs we could watch through windows that appeared to be in luxury boxes within the stadium. But as we moved toward the middle innings, there we were still in line, not really knowing for sure if we would ever get a free glimpse, feeling too much like herded livestock — but eager and relatively happy livestock. I read later in USA Today that the Giants gave out wristbands for those awaiting free viewing. No such thing for Game 1. And as Freddy Sanchez, Aubrey Huff, and Cody Ross propelled us into a solid lead, exuberance rebounded. If the scheme of Knothole viewing were to hold true for us, we would view in the under-the-stands cubbyhole for the last three innings. But it really began to look iffy. I figured: hang in here; stay with it. And when Uribe’s ball sailed out of our view, accompanied by raucous cheers and water cannon, we knew he’d hit a homer and we high-fived anyone we could reach, maybe twice.

Then we found ourselves in a railed in area, within a gated barricade. Good sign. Maybe there is some order to this. Then the guards were checking bags and seemingly ousting some people. One guy who was clearly on the promenade (but not in line) was now in the Knothole! Huh? It appeared that he had cut in. So, our mini-community was encouraged when they started shuffling out the previous Knothole gang of 100 or 125. I confess I got a little nervous. I walked up to the security gatekeeper who was trying to keep order. “Hey, look, I came here all the way from Syracuse, New York, and…” “Don’t worry; y’all will get in. Stop pushing, people. Hey!” It was a little frantic, not riotous but tense. But by the top of the 8th inning (alas, we did not even get in by the “allotted” 7th inning), our batch was filing in. “Hey, let those kids in first. Syracuse! Hey, you, Syracuse, come here.” In. I texted my daughter. “In the Knothole.”

I’d have to say the wait was worth it. You’re in a cavern looking through a chain-link fence, so you’re drenched in game light. As far as I can tell, you are at playing-field level. Exactly. You cannot say that about the most expensive seat in the house. You are directly in back of the right fielder and gain an unparalleled glimpse of the spatial challenges any outfielder must face. You get a tremendous sense of that difficulty. Nevertheless, as rough as it was, I had to laugh when someone in our group yelled to Vladimir Guerrero, “You’ll always be a Montreal Expo!” Ouch. And he proceeded to make two errors. Vlad looked tired and beat. The Rangers looked tired and beat. But although we rejoiced in some more scoring we also withstood some customary “Torture” in the 9th, as the Giants’ season has been termed.

And when victory was finally, inexplicably, and outrageously ours, our little family down there hugged and fist-bumped and high-fived (more than once, thanks) and howled and screamed and cried gloriously: the kid formerly on his father’s shoulders right at the fence (from Reno?) (watched by a “stranger”); the Asian woman my age; the mother and daughter (or were they friends?) who teared up when the heard my little story; the young lady who is an architect, originally from Canada, I recall, who fed me game updates from her ear buds, thank you; the graying guy my age with the baseball cap; the young Latinos and Latinas; the young and old; the men and women and boys and girls; the single and married; the black and white; the Orange and Black.

And me.

We won Game 1! We beat Cliff Lee! We can win the World Series.

—– 00 —–

We thank Paul for that marvelous piece. We dedicate it to former Giants farmhand, Charley Garivaltis.

THE PLANET hopes you enjoyed a day off from all the mystery and madness that is politics and grime. Hard Knox is on vacation.








  1. Scott
    March 29, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    “To make of youth Bubble Children, artificially protected (so we think) from life’s hurts.”

    Until they’re handed a gun and imposed on a nation in the name of freedom and safety to eradicate a fictional enemy of America. No wonder they’re going nuts over there. Tell me something what’s the difference between “Task Force 373” and what Robert Bales did?

  2. Fahey's boys
    March 29, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    For any aspiring videographers out there…bring a video camera to Deming Park some evening.

    You would have an award-winning documentary chronicling the excesses and abuses of parents who live their frustrations of unfulfilled childhood dreams through their children.

    Gotta see it/hear it to believe it! D-Y-S-F-U-N-C-T-I-O-N-A-L !!

    • Scott
      March 29, 2012 at 10:34 am #

      Can you imagine having a grown adult attack your child during a game because they’re out playing their kid?

      • Jim Gleason
        March 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

        That’s never happened in Pittsfield.

        • Scott
          March 30, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

          I didn’t say it did but it does happen and is a possibility.

    • Jim Gleason
      March 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

      Are you referring to LL or BR baseball?

      • Joetaxpayer
        March 30, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

        Jim must agree Pittsfield Little League is a well run league Dedicated. Volunters South,West and North have many.Yes there are a few parents that might get out of hand, but they are taken care of.Little League baseball is one of the best run youth leagues in the city!Dan you are barking up the wronge tree.

  3. Chuck Garivaltis
    March 29, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Dan, Many thanks for the dedication. Loved the historically correct piece you wrote. Games at the park, an open field, or in a large backyard were common in the day. Skills were developed because kids played every day. If it did not rain you were outside with your glove and bat.The ball had 2 rolls of black tape rapped around it.Getting those 50 raps a day made the difference.There was a league made up of city parks. Age limit to the age of 12. And get this, players picked their team.No fathers or uncles picking players who should be playing marbles instead of baseball. There were no refs, disputes were settled with fists, lifetime friendships were forged and all became teammates in a few years in high school. This was the golden age of Pittsfield baseball being a local and regional power for a 30 year run starting in the 40’s.

    Playing for the Springfield Giants was a treat. Can one imagine what it was like graduating from Colgate and 2 weeks later playing left field with Felipe Alou in center and Jose Pagan at second base? Felipe and Jose went on to long major league careers. I have to confess I wondered if I was in the right place when taking warmups my first day I was next to Felipe and from deep center he picked up a grounder and threw a perfect rope one hopper to the catcher The next summer he was playing right field for the San Francisco Giants. Playing center for the SF Giants was Willie Mays. Not even Felipe could move Willie out of center field.

    I enjoyed Paul Kocak’s piece. How times have changed. This cannot end well for what was our national pastime. Million dollar salaries to mediocre players, Ticket prices that prevent taking your family to the park. Bottled water costing $5.00 a pop and hot dogs that are comparable in price to a porterhouse steak. It just cannot end well.

    • Chuck Garivaltis
      March 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

      whoops – 5th line from top – black tape “wrapped” around it. Thanks all for not roasting me on this error.

  4. The Kraken
    March 29, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    Between the extra playoff teams, too many games per playoff series, too many days off during a playoff series, and games taking 3 plus hours due to all the lengthy commercial breaks, baseball is trying it’s best to make a game as boring as possible. And it’s succeeding!

    • ambrose
      March 30, 2012 at 4:48 am #

      went to a red sox-indians double header with my father in 1946 – left pittsfield on a train in the morning, watched two games ( saw bobby doerr hit two home runs to beat cleveland 2-1) and was back in town at 8:30 take 7 hours just to play the games now

      • Shakes His Head
        March 30, 2012 at 8:32 am #

        The average MLB game takes 2:57.

  5. Molly
    March 29, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    DV – as someone who only peripherally follows sports, I have a question — other than the fact that historically it’s been baseball that is our nation’s sport, how is what you describe any different than the football, hockey and basketball leagues? They are ALL like that, no? And it seems like football has taken over that “nation’s sport” title from baseball.

  6. Shakes His Head
    March 29, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    I’d like some stats on the 2,000 minor leaguers. I’m not aware of a huge reduction in the developmental leagues.

  7. Molly
    March 29, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    Two parents bringing their two children to a baseball game on a Saturday afternoon was a very common and American thing to do. I just looked up the price of tickets — Grandstand seats at Fenway (wayyyyy back) for 4, at $55.00 EACH, $220????? That is beyond atrocious and is truly sad. Who can afford to do that? Add on gas to get to/from Fenway, lunch, a program, popcorn and snacks for the kids, you’re pushing $350!

    • Scott
      March 29, 2012 at 10:38 am #

      you ain’t kidding someone told me that was a Christmas present for the entire family a trip to Fenway to watch one game. I know it’s not about gifts but I couldn’t help but think how jipped the kids got on Christmas morning.

      • Shakes His Head
        March 29, 2012 at 11:15 am #

        Especially the Red Sox, those prima-donna losers are just leaching off some commericalized mickey-mouse New England nostalgia. What a bunch of bums!

        • Scott
          March 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

          I liked it better when they were expected to lose. I think I have that back. New England too I’m gonna be routing for the Bronco’s this year I’d like to see them and the Giant’s in the next super bowl.

  8. Ron Kitterman
    March 29, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    @ Molly isn’t baseball classified as a national passtime ? But, would have to agree with you on all counts. Heard on the radio that at the new skate park there is an exhibition of sorts planned for this summer ( Oh I can hardly wait ) they will require helmets to be worn that day though.

    • Steve wade
      March 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

      Ron too bad when you were a cop I’m sure you would have kept a eye on the park, but then again you would have to put down your donut to do anything .

      • spectator
        March 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm #


      • Molly
        March 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

        The proverbial donut? You’re slipping, Steve…

        • Steve wade
          March 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

          Molly. Did you ever see Ron when he was on duty?

          • Molly
            March 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

            Absolutely! Still – that’s an old worn-out one.

  9. Paul Kocak
    March 29, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    Thanks for sharing the memory of one of my life’s happiest days. Pleased to tell you that my book “Baseball’s Starry Night” is just out. The book, about Game 162 in 2011, shows that for some fans, baseball burnishes a shinier view of MLB, though I recognize your lament posted above. But, hey, I got into the World Series for free, in 2010, not 1910. Free!

  10. echo
    March 29, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    Ron, thanxs for your service and dan~ I gave up on major league baseball after they went on strike!

  11. Molly
    March 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    I’m sure everyone has seen the BB headline of: “Public survey to guide selection of Pittsfield schools superintendent”. It will be interesting to see what questions are on it, and also interesting to see if there’s a place to put your own comment. And also – just how much weight will these carry and how will we ever know?

    • dusty
      March 30, 2012 at 1:26 am #

      Who is in charge of reviewing these results and publishing them. They can still be made to show whatever they want them to show if they simply “lose” the ones that do not support their goal.

      • Molly
        March 30, 2012 at 11:16 am #

        Welllll, also notice that most of the questions will be open-ended. Very easy to interpret another way, or people will put very general catagories like “good leadership”. One of my main points will be someone with actual documented experience of turning around a troubled school system in another district, and also someone who is not currently known in THIS school district who can take a fresh look at it. Also, knowing Pittsfield, there won’t be very many responses. I hope that is not the case and people take just a few minutes to do it.

  12. Nomad
    March 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    If you don’t believe that the little league organizations have taken over control of the LL fields in Pittsfield’s parks…try getting a group of kids, and holding an impromptu pickup game on any of the 4 fenced in fields once the LL season is underway.

    I nominate DV and Chuck to coach the pickup teams.

    • Joetaxpayer
      March 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

      Sorry but I think you are caught in the past.Let me enlighten you.Most kids do not play baseball.The kids who do are very into the LL. system. They love baseball as much as you once did.Fact is ,like you have stated most of the other kids are playing lacrosse,AAU basketball, and skateboarding and BMX biking,not to forget playing games on the computer.

  13. tito
    March 30, 2012 at 3:49 am #

    PLANET some people call yesterday @ WBRK? You can’t insult Bill the Shill’ and call him a Bum, on his own Show. Then a flaming idiot, c’mon mon.

    • Jim Gleason
      March 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

      I didn’t hear it but from what I’ve heard it was great!

  14. Chuck Garivaltis
    March 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    I made my comments about overpaid jocks meaning baseball players. Now I see some donkey named Singleton from the basketball Wizards purchased $10,000.lottery tickets hoping to win $575 million in this evenings lottery drawing. I’d like to win or have the 10 thousand he spent as chump change for tonights lottery. Talk about an overpaid fool! Please, please, don’t let this guy win. He earns 1.5 million a year on his basketball contract.

    • Joetaxpayer
      March 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

      Chuck from your mouth to gods ears! Thank you for serving are City.

  15. tito
    March 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    It’s only money, Chuck.

  16. Ernest Lawrence Thayer
    March 30, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    The Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
    The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
    And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
    A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

    A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
    Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
    They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
    We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

    But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
    And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
    So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
    For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.

    But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
    And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
    And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
    There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

    Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
    It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
    It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
    For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

    There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
    There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
    And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
    No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.

    Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
    Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
    Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
    Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

    And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
    And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
    Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
    “That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

    From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
    Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
    “Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
    And its likely they’d a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

    With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
    He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
    He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
    But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”

    “Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
    But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
    They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
    And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

    The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
    He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
    And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
    And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

    Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
    The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
    And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
    But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck ou

  17. Joetaxpayer
    March 30, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Dan must disagre with the comments about the south little league.My son played there for a few years ago and had the time of his life.The kids sang songs for each batter who took the plate.They all had team spirte and had looked out for each other.Yes, there are less kids playing baseball since you were a kid ,but the ones that are playing today still have the same passion that you had.

  18. tito
    March 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    Right on Joe.

  19. tito
    March 30, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    Every kid should play,period.

  20. Beacon Hill Mob
    March 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    News Flash:

    Greylock Federal next to Big Y was robbed by a Woman this afternoon.

    • Scott
      March 30, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

      News flash it was the one on elm street.

      • Beacon Hill Mob
        March 31, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

        The note she passed the teller said:

        “Angelo sent me!”

        • Scott
          March 31, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

          Now that’s scary if your a pre pubescent “young man”.

        • jimbo
          April 2, 2012 at 8:00 am #

          that or “Heller is watching…”

  21. ambrose
    April 2, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    nah, he’s out heping the lttle guy, mittens

    • danvalenti
      April 2, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

      Yup, AMBY, that’s exactly where we are.