Oriole Chronicles Vol. 3: The Pulse of the South Side

Credit: Sean Terry

Credit: Sean Terry

Regal Radio co-founder Sean Terry hosts The Varsity Show on Thursdays at 9 pm central with fellow co-founder Joe “Champ” Tanksley. Terry has spent the balance of his life in baseball, playing it, following it and even working for a time within the Los Angeles Dodgers’ scouting department.

This summer Terry is chronicling his time playing in the Metro League South Baseball Association.

Summertime in the Chi is like nothing else the city can offer, its something both lifers and visitors alike can attest to.

With the litter and street excitement from summer Friday and Saturday nights serving as the set-up its easy to canvass across any given neighborhood in the city to indicate how calm or brutal a weekend has been once the early birds arise Sunday morning.

Heading “over east,” already in full uniform, towards the great parks of the South Side is a baseball player looking to get an early jump on claiming space to play for the afternoon. As he cruises he starts to take it all in, the city unfolds in front of him and he gets to feel what’s really going on this side of town. No other street serves as a better, more revealing artery of Chicago than 63rd Street.

Rolling down the six-tre mid-Sunday morning, boxed in between the end caps of the CTA’s green line, creates a vivid and almost electric run-up to another day of baseball. Cast under the tracks and between the pillars that support the el train, and decorated with street murals along the way – everything is laid out here: the waves of pedestrians dart in and out the streets re-enchanting descriptions of activity from the night before, lines of cats waiting for the late sell hour to kick in at Rothschild’s Liquors and then providing another perspective is the infusion of morning service worshipers cascading out of Apostolic Church.

63rd street is the lifeblood to the South Side, its also the street you’ll most likely see teammates link up at as they make their way toward the hub of the day’s activity: 63rd & Stony Island.

Harnessing the Potential of Today’s Youth

On game day, the schedule is chock full of games, usually split between a couple diamonds. Youth is typically deferred to, which adds an element of mentorship and a teaching component to our baseball culture, as the younger, inter-generational team(s) kick things off for the early game.

While parents of players interact with umpires and their younger siblings bounce about showing the intensity of their own early baseball ambitions, sprinkles of players begin landing along different spots of the grass berm to begin their stretching routines while exchanging greetings with teammates and opponents.

During this time, you’ll see younger energy harnessed to aid with last minute field prep – raking dirt, anchoring bases and lining chalk. These acts don’t go unnoticed and prove to be a sure indicator of the internal fire and love for the game from players, parents, volunteers and on-lookers.

Credit: Sean Terry Shaun-T takes the field.

Shaun-T takes the field.

Poor decisions on pre-game chow also provide yet another indicator of a player’s age and prowess, as it is a lot easier to stomach a McDonald’s quarter-pounder with cheese right before playing a brutal three-hour game of baseball when you are on the right side of 25, anything older than that and you might as well pull up the lawn chair because it wpuld be a long day for you if you take the field. Incidentally, you’re bound to catch representatives of the best and worst ballplayer behavior on a typical Sunday.

Once in progress, the first game typically features more patience and a lot more in-game teaching for younger players. For insight and the voice behind much of this teaching, you don’t need to go any further than Shaun-T, who happens to serve as league president, head coach for the sponsored 16-20-year-old Pirates squad, and pitcher/captain for his own Marlins team. At one time I heard this voice directly, a little less raspier then, though the tenor remains the same — Shaun-T instructs his youth team today the same way he coached my varsity Cyclones when I played at the Chicago H.S. for Ag. Sciences back in 1999-2000.

Youth hasn’t exactly been served for my Orioles team this year, but its been missed – the young catalyst known aptly as T-Y has been out of the lineup since a freak pre-season injury sidelined him nearly a month. What could have been (and certainly looked to be) a devastating knee injury at initial incidence, turned out to be a mild knee hyperextension, which the O’s gladly took as sigh of relief. Thank God for the super-healing powers of a 20-year-old. In these most recent weeks, the O’s youngest player and the lynchpin to the team’s positional flexibility has been slowly making progress and has pushed past a mental hurdle to ready himself to get back between the lines.

Credit: Sean Terry T-Y acts as a catalyst for the Orioles

T-Y acts as a catalyst for the Orioles

No Pain, No Gain

Injury-recovery and coming to understand one’s body and physical limitations is one of the advantages to being a veteran player. As described in an earlier post, my “routine” feels more like a food recipe – as each action of prep throughout my week serves as a necessary ingredient to help me be in good form and ready for the grill of game action come Sunday.

That said, “the routine” is not so much a static thing as it is a work in progress that has been refined a few times over as I’ve matured as a ballplayer. It’s one of those things where experimentation has led me to understanding a few good stretches and maneuvers that work for my body – helping alleviate the aches and pains before jumping back in it during the next Sunday’s game.

That said, no amount of prep, whether you’re young or old, can prepare a player for the inevitable – getting hit by the ball, a small but intimidating part of the game that separates the kids from those who’ll live with the game into adulthood. The fear of being hit by the ball is a true mental hurdle that every person who plays this game has to conquer in order to sustain within it.

Within the baseball itself is housed all the joy and pain of the game and when that ball is caught incorrectly, pitched inaccurately, or skips and takes a funny hop, it becomes the humbling reminder of the realness of this game – contrary to the simplicity that stems from watching the pros make it look so easy.

We’ve all been tagged once or twice by the ball. Already this season I’ve taken one in the face from an errant pitch. Myself aside, I’ve also seen guys take balls of the head (thank God for helmets). in the ribs (try not to make that dude laugh and somebody hand him a Newport) and off bare hands (you will most certainly lose that fingernail at some point).

The grit of this game is what toughens players, while close calls and unfortunate bumps and bruises sharpens a player’s awareness. Developing the concentration and the ability to stay locked into the game is one of the most difficult challenges experienced players have to conquer. However, phrases like “see the ball all the way in…” take on an entirely different meaning once you’ve been blazed by a ball.

So when baseball guys say stuff like, “that guy is a grinder…” or “he plays with grit” it’s a true honor and a badge of acknowledgment. Not only is that player someone who performs well at his respective level, but he has the mental fortitude to be a part of this game – that mental load isn’t for everyone.

Put it on Social Media

As yet another Sunday shifts from the AM to PM hours and the “prime time” game of the week slides into the mix, the air of liveliness shifts in and becomes very noticeable as bleachers fill with on lookers and the congregation standing behind the backstop begins the usual chirping that adds drama and hype to the scene each week.

Primetime is when the chit-chat between dugouts becomes a bit feistier and the “rah-rah” heard and portrayed during the biggest moments of the game becomes that much more theatrical. It’s the game within the game element, and the one factor that heightens the moment and adds a level of drama to the field. Uniquely found in MLSBA, this element is unlike any other witnessed in the local, amateur baseball scene.

Guys who play like bums will be called out accordingly, while even the good players who are recognized for their playing ability are certainly not impervious to criticism – everyone, and I mean everyone, is free game for a few laughs at their own expense.

This year, social media – specifically Facebook video and Instagram — adds more juice to the hype of our scene. No one wants to be embarrassed, yet embarrassment is bound to happen (baseball is a game of mistakes, right)? Get caught at the right time or the wrong time when a camera phone or IPad is rolling and you will most certainly be the poster child for an embarrassing moment.

Be that as it may, social media draws the league together, it binds everyone through schedule and rehashes the unbelievable. Since we’re not on any ESPN highlight reels, social media and video play a vital role in preserving memories in today’s adult male version of sandlot baseball. Prior to this, I guess there were only word of mouth and epilogues that resonated in the mind like tall tales of John Henry.

The Island within an Island

As the dust settles on the “prime-time” game and dusk moves in, carrying with it the sleepy lake effect fog only found “over east”, another week of action is in the books. All that remains are a few stragglers packing equipment and clearing out dugouts littered with leftover drink bottles, empty beer cans, used athletic tape and sunflower seeds. The calm of the diamond is reestablished and a once vivid park transitions back to a desolate island overlooking Stony Island.

The buzz from the street is more noticeable now and the boys in blue, positioned on the grass to catch a glimpse of the action a few hours ago, are now creating their own noise (sirens) as they go deeper in the ‘hood to respond to a disturbance or disturbances. Like an alarm clock, those sirens awaken me from the dream that is Sunday baseball and bring me back to reality – summertime Chi is like a gift and a curse at the same time. The ‘hood remains the ‘hood and when the buzz is apparent, drama, and often times trouble, is not far from it. Time for me to roll out.

Sean Terry is a co-founder of Regal Radio and co-hosts “The Varsity Show,” which you can follow on Twitter @varsityshow1 or follow Sean himself @craftbeersochi.

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