Oriole Chronicles Vol. 4: Only a Chosen Few

Credit: chosenfewdjs.com Poster for the latest edition of the Chosen Few Picnic, held yearly on Chicago's South Side.

Credit: chosenfewdjs.com
Poster for the latest edition of the Chosen Few Picnic, held yearly on Chicago’s South Side.

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.

It takes a true passion and a special drive to play baseball well into adulthood, especially when it comes at the expense of missing out on Saturday night festivities for 12 to 16 prime weekends in the heart of summertime. And while many die-hards make the ultimate sacrifice in passing on First Friday’s or Saturday nights at the Shrine, there is an element found in Metro League South that makes up for that loss.

Routinely positioning themselves in the far corner of the park and serving as the backdrop of our anchor field (63rd Street and Stony Island), several green tents can be found weekly as the old school house heads post up with barbeque grills going, as the drone of portable generators supply the juice needed to keep the deep house music going well into the late hours on Sunday afternoons.

For league newbies and those not accustomed with this presence, the constant bass thump exclusive to Chicago’s own deep house music can be a bit of an irritant, but that’s just something that comes with the territory and contributes to the “culture of calm” that has been established around our league. I’m proud to report that despite the chaos of summer weekends in Chicago that often captivates national headlines, our league has been incident-free since early May -– and we intend to keep it that way.

As if the weekly house heads who share the park with us aren’t enough, the embrace of deep house extends city-wide during Independence Day weekend, transforming Jackson Park and the outskirts of the Hyde Park community into the outdoor extravaganza known as Chicago’s Annual Chosen Few Picnic. Held annually during the July 4th weekend, Metro League South takes a momentary pause allowing players in the league to get a well-deserved break and an opportunity to rest up achy limbs or a free weekend to turn-up!

This year, in honor of the late, great “Godfather of House” Frankie Knuckles I attended “Chosen Few” only to bump into many fellow players and those who support Metro League South. I guess us true grinders can’t stand to miss a weekend on the diamond whether we are playing or not.

All Star Camaraderie…

According to the man aptly known as Ziff (official league thespian and manager of the Metro League South Twins), “any good baseball player worth his salt needs at least 50-60 games a year to play quality baseball.” This game always has been and always will be a grind; however, the grind that we experience today is nothing like that experienced by our predecessors who paved the way for us to play this game.

Regardless of their background or how they came into the game, any player who is worth a damn makes it his business to understand his baseball history. This is especially true when it comes to African American ballplayers embracing the trailblazing history of Negro League Baseball and the strides and sacrifices made by players who embraced leadership, dealt with abuse and stared inequity in the face, barnstorming from city to city and bucking the system just to play this game.

Fresh off a weekend of trumping through the cranberry marsh in Jackson Park and the hellacious clean up task by Chicago’s Park District, Metro League South reestablished its presence the weekend after the holiday weekend with a bang by hosting the league’s annual All-Star Game and Tribute to the past, which takes time to honor both our baseball history while also recognizing the grind of the league’s best and brightest.

Often seen as a community all it’s own, one that carries with it the culture of “baseball as a lifestyle,” it goes without saying when the stars come out, so do the new cleats, and colorful accent tape and shoestrings. Emboldened by the intermix of squads in the dugouts, this game draws the interest of all in who rotate around our corner of the park, while the heightened attention adds an element of spice to the one-on-one showdowns between the league’s best pitchers and hitters. As the young bloods say, “loud on deck!”

…And a Tribute to Baseball History

But All-Star Weekend and the Tribute Game is less about flash and more about substance, and this year’s game was be no different as two local baseball legends would be honored.

Chicago’s own Al Spearman, the former Negro League Baseball legend of the Chicago American Giants, who some refer to as “Mr. Complete Game” came to throw out the ceremonial first pitch; while and local legend Mr. Billy Beane was on deck to present the All-Star game MVP trophy. And no, we’re not talking about the Billy Beane who runs the Oakland A’s, but the gregarious former professional player and area mentor who has given back to the game thru his coaching and mentorship of multiple generations of black baseball players pushing the sport ahead in Chicago.

Credit: Sean Terry Mid South baseball supporter Billy Beane gives out the ... at the league All-Star Game.

Credit: Sean Terry
Metro League South baseball supporter Billy Beane (center) helps gives out the MVP trophy at the league All-Star Game.

Looking Ahead to the Second Half

Between the festivities and the game itself, All-Star weekend makes for a hectic experience; its one part intra-squad scrimmage and one part family reunion barbeque. It’s the one week pause during the heart of the season where guys from opposite teams exchange playful banter and swap tips on all things baseball-related — “Say, where did you say those Franklin batting gloves were on sale at?”

Besides the tip of the hat that comes with players and league supporters acknowledging a few of our local trailblazers in the baseball community, the All-Star weekend represents a turn of the page and look ahead to the stretch run of the season. With nearly 2/3 of the games already in the books and the hottest days of the year hopefully behind us, the natural inclination is for guys to look at the remaining schedule and prospective playoff match-ups.

The savviest of players will use the All-Star game itself as a chance to focus in on that pitcher who’s given teams fits all season, or the hitter who always seems to grind out at-bats. Any and every little nuance is free game and a potential advantage if the eye is keen enough to catch it.

While the notably heightened rah-rah effect of the game can become slightly contagious, especially for pitchers looking to make hitters look silly with sick sliders and heavy bending curve balls, veteran players sit back during the All-Star game choosing a lower profile instead –- waiting, listening and watching for the first sign of a guy tipping his pitches or revealing a hole in his swing.

The Stretch Run and Grind

Late innings of games on Sunday will push the patience of those involved, regardless of the score or outcome; and as the dog days of summer continue to pile along with finicky knees and hamstrings in abundance games begin to take on a less leisurely pace, and more grueling a potential grudge match become, the more Kanye-like stank face stare downs emerge along with a ton of back and forth chirpiness.

Moving ahead, one can expect to see a few more close calls turn into ugly arguments on the field and a lot less friendly pounds and smiles being made throughout the league. With playoff baseball on the horizon, the atmosphere is surely to change and become a ton more serious. Trophies and personal hardware are on the line and everyone is out to get theirs.

A last chance hope to reorder playoff seeding will take place over the first two Sundays in August, and afterwards the true summer fireworks begin. The countdown to August 17th and playoff action has begun.

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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