By Phil Hecken, with Jim Vilk
Here on Uni Watch, we often kid Jim Vilk on his lack of fashion sense and general and unwavering ability to make bad jerseys look worse, (and his seeming irrational desire to be photographed in closets and doorways), but it’s all in good fun and Jim is absolutely a stand up guy with a love of short shorts and high socks, and an aw-shucks/get off my lawn (in a good way) demeanor. I consider Jim a good friend.
So, on this Memorial Day weekend, it is my absolute great pleasure to present this beautiful article. While it’s not quite uniform related, any of us with a love of uniforms can certainly appreciate what follows. Really, just a special, feel-good story from a great guy, about a “sport” that doesn’t get much play on UW, but one which, much like the Memorial Day weekend itself, kicks off summer for America. And as much as it’s the story of a sport and where it’s played, it’s the story of a father and son, and his son. And it’s wonderful.
Is that heaven, Jim?
No, it’s Akron.
Plastic Balls, Real Grass and Spare Parts
By Jim Vilk
Growing up as a typical red-blooded American child, I loved the game of baseball. I still do, but early on I realized I wasn’t exactly cut out for playing the game at a high level. Since my dad and my uncle played in the minors, I figured I’d give organized ball a shot anyway. It took one season to confirm my suspicion before I went back to playing wiffleball with my friends. At first I thought it was just the fear of getting hit by a hardball, but once I started playing softball, I found out I have a slight depth perception problem. After a few years of slow-pitch, I hung up my glove, to be used only at picnics.
When I got married and we had our son, I wanted to play ball again — partly because I missed it, and partly because I was looking forward to playing with the boy as he grew. Instead of joining a team, though, I took advantage of our big back yard and decided to build a wiffleball field. To me, it was a great idea. I now had a real reason to mow all that grass in the back, friends and family could come over to play, and maybe we could even play a whole season as I did in junior high and high school. Plus, I could face fast pitching and curve balls again without worrying about my depth perception causing a concussion or worse.
Despite a limited budget, I had big plans for the field. I definitely wanted a home run fence, but all I had were a bunch of metal temporary fence posts, some peg board and a little bit of tan woven fabric. That wasn’t enough to make a whole fence, so I put the peg board in center field as a sort of batter’s eye background. For left and right fields, I went to an unusual source: my wife’s crafting room. It turned out Mrs. V had yards and yards of old yarn she didn’t need, so I strung it back and forth across the posts. Then I draped the tan fabric on each side of the peg board (with retired jerseys, which I’ll get to later), spray painted some bases and foul lines and I was ready for Opening Day. A close-up of me on the mound shows the makeshift fence, and my makeshift uniform, in greater detail.
Obviously, yarn was not a good long-term solution for fencing material. It lasted for one or two more games, but little by little it started to break and leave gaps. Left with few options, I decided to splurge on some real wire fence. To reinforce the top of the fence and each post I covered them in lots and lots of duct tape. I also bought some plastic bases (later replaced with stepping stones I sunk into the ground), lined the field and added broomsticks for foul poles. For finishing touches I wrote the distances for the foul lines, power alleys and center field on cardboard and clothespinned them to the fence. Then I made a crude scoreboard, as well as some wind socks for the foul poles using plastic newspaper bags.
As for the retired jerseys, they were moved to left and right field and pinned to the fence. I made those out of some super-strong paper a former co-worker gave to me from one of his other jobs. I’m not sure why he gave it to me, but after years of sitting in my basement it finally came in handy. I made four jerseys, two with black and gold trim for the Pirates, one in red and blue trim for the original Senators (the organization Dad played for in the minors) and one in brown and orange trim for the St. Louis Browns (the club who held the rights to my uncle).
I honored my favorite Pirate, Willie Stargell, along with Roberto Clemente. The other jerseys had Dad’s and Uncle Joe’s numbers on them. Getting their numbers were a little tricky, as I wanted to surprise Dad. One day before I started building the field I casually asked what number he wore in the minors. He told me in spring training they gave him 50, so I put that on his jersey. Later, I had to fix that, as Dad told me once the season started he wore 19. I then took my last scrap of the special paper and taped the new number over the old one. Dad didn’t know Uncle Joe’s number, but he gave me the address of John G. Hall, who wrote extensively on the old KOM (Kansas Oklahoma Missouri) League where Uncle Joe pitched. Mr. Hall didn’t know his number either, but suggested I use 27. That’s the number of wins he said Uncle Joe had in 1952, while pitching for the Iola Indians. Baseball Reference has him with 26 wins, but I can’t say who’s right or wrong there. It doesn’t matter now, as the jerseys wore out and had to be tossed anyway.
People came and played for a few years, but not as much as I had hoped. Around the time I got rid of the jerseys, I thought about dismantling the field. I was putting a lot of extra yard work in for only a few days of playing, so I went ahead and took out the fence. The pitchers mound became a bonfire circle, but I kept the bases in the ground for the occasional family gathering. We just pitched in front of the circle for a few years.
Finally, this year I decided it was time to re-do the field. I dug up the bases and moved them closer to the house, away from the bush line and in conformance with Major League Wiffleball rules. I also put foul poles back up, along with a pole in center field. Yes, that’s purple you see on the poles. I know it’s an act of Uni Watch treason, but I believe in using what I have on hand. Those are foam pads from my son’s old swing set. The things you see on the ground are my wife’s old planter boxes. Maybe I’ll put some plants in them for a different type of “fence,” but now they are there to mark the home run line. The gaps and the foul lines I spray painted in light blue paint. My wife got four cans from work for free, so again, I use what I have.
So far, we have played one game on the new field, and hopefully we can get another one in this weekend. I don’t think I’ll put up another fence, but I would like to get back to playing more frequently. So, if there’s ever another Uni Watch gathering in northeast Ohio, you now have a place to come and play some ball.
Oh, people will come, Jim. They’ll come.
Thanks for that fantastic story.
As a followup, Jim wanted to “explain” his dress.
One more thing: even though I’m a fan of uniforms, you may have noticed things are a little casual here in that regard. I would like to wear uniforms, and sometimes I come close to doing so, but most of the time we just wear whatever. One thing I do like to break out, though, is the first souvenir I ever got at Three Rivers Stadium, my old Pirates helmet. I’ve had that for 40 years now, and even though it’s a little rough and worn it’s still in decent shape — just like its owner and his field.
There used to be a ball park here… As a followup to this past Monday’s terrific piece by Mike Styczen on Jarry and The Ex, reader Paul Wiederecht contacted me with some more…much more…on Parc Jarry. Here’s Paul:
I never had a chance to see a game live at Jarry, but did see tennis there during an 80′s mets trip. These photos show the changes over time — 60′s pre-Expos showing the wooden baseline benches and 3rd to 1st stand and winter 68/69 expansion in deep snow.
An overhead shot from above the pool in the 80′s tennis set-up with the baseball field overlaid, as well as pix from right field side looking back to the plate area in the 1960′s, 1980′s and 2000′s that shows how the original press box and home plate seating areas remain despite the changes all around.
An AP picture from the 1st game ceremony shows the full house that day despite large mounds of snow that were removed earlier that day (no pix of snow).
An interesting part of the Jarry “experience” was the active organist – Fernand Lapierre, who was interviewed on CBC radio during a game vs. mets in 1973. His last year with the Expos was 2003 in a cameo appearance at the big “owe” but more recently he played some of his well known baseball pieces like the “expos sont l’a!” which were added to you tube.
Here are some items that appeared in Sports Illustrated in 1968, the giles story is the most interesting:
* 9/68 Warren Giles impressed by crowd at Jarry, scorecard pg.10;
In addition, Paul sent along numerous more articles on Jarry Park in the newspapers…
* Montreal Gazette 1/31/76, “Olymipcs at Jarry?”
* Montreal Gazette 3/4/77, “Jarry faces sandlot fate”
* Montreal Gazette 4/14/69, Jarry Opening Day (pg.13-19)
* Montreal Gazette 4/15/69, 1st Jarry game stories (pg. 10-13)
* Montreal Gazette 9/27/76, Last Jarry game/1st football at The Big O (pg. 13-18)
* Montreal Gazette 4/19/72, Opening Day 1972 (pgs. 14-16)
Great, great stuff Paul. Thanks so much for the followup!
This one they got right. The Milwaukee
Brewers Bears and New York Mets Cubans played a throwback game in the Cream City last night, and unlike previous throwback games this year, the two teams did a tremendous job with the throwbacks. Almost every player wore baggy unis with visible hosiery — almost.
The Milwaukee Brewers were throwing back to the 1923 Milwaukee Bears, who played in the Negro National League (NNL). Their logo was a royal blue, radially arched “BEARS”, and their cap insignia was a royal blue block “M” on a white diamond, both of which were well represented on the throwback. Sporting royal blue raglan sleeves on an off-white jersey, the Brewers even went the extra mile of creating a matching batting helmet (which of course, did not exist in 1923). Very nicely done, although (and I watched about 4 innings) some players appeared to go really baggy. With a ’23 throwback, obviously the players should have been NNOB, and NNOB they were. Really, just a just a good looking game on both sides of the ball.
The Brewers looked good, and with good reason — they’ve paid hommage to the Bears on 4 previous occasions: In 2006, the Milwaukee Brewers wore Bears throwback uniforms in games against the Washington Nationals (at Miller Park) and Kansas City Royals (on the road) as part of a tribute to the Negro Leagues. On June 23, 2007, the Brewers wore the Bears’ uniform against the Royals (who wore Kansas City Monarchs uniforms). On July 5th, 2008 the Brewers also wore the Bears’ uniforms against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who sported the uniforms of the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Last night they took on the Mets.
The uniforms worn in the games from 2006-08 were white with black pinstripes, black letters spelling Milwaukee (on left), black socks, and a white pinstriped cap. In 2009 and 2010, the Brewers the version sported last evening. Resident Cream City expert Chance Michaels wrote a nice piece on his blog last year which provides a great background on the Milwaukee Bears. Good reading.
The visiting Mets, whose pitchers made for good guests in hitting many Brewer bats, wore the uniforms of the New York Cubans, who had a much longer history in the Negro Leagues than the Bears. They played in the 1930′s (1936 to be exact) through 1950. Like the “New York” Jets and Giants, the Cubans didn’t actually play in New York State, with their home games played in Hinchcliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey (this name “New York” can be traced to the fact that earlier versions of the team, such as the “Cuban Stars” and “All Cubans” had played in New York). Future MLB star Minnie Minoso (seen in a closeup here) played for the Cubans before entering the bigs. I’m not entirely certain what year the Mets were throwing back to, but suffice it to say, it was probably as close to 1923 as they could get.
For their part, the Mets wore a red cap with black brim, a gorgeous gray faux flannel uniform with red piping on the placket, shoulders, sleeves and pants. They wore solid black socks, red numbers and NNOB, and got lots of practice viewing balls leave the field. While they didn’t create an anachronistic batting helmet (certainly no need to), they had red belt loops and red rear pocket flaps to complete the look. I’m curious as to what material Majestic used to create these uniforms, as they definitely bore a resemblance to the “legend gray” being sported by several college teams using Under Armour. It is MOST DEFINITELY a look I would love to see recreated for the bigs current roads.
I don’t want to editorialize too much on the uniforms in this game, but I can’t but wonder WHY the teams and the players went to such effort to “get the look right” when they’ve been so lackadaisical in so doing for other throwback games this year. Were these uniforms “cut” differently? After all, I was criticized when I bemoaned earlier efforts of teams who insisted on wearing pajama pants, with those defending that look offering many reasons for their appearance. Arguments such as “they just use the players current measurements to make the uniforms” and “we don’t want them too uncomfortable wearing a uniform to which they’re not accustomed,” to (for the 70′s throwbacks) “we don’t want them wearing skintight uniforms.” Fair enough, but the players didn’t look particularly comfortable in some of the play I observed, with many players fidgeting with the uni, or hiking up/lowering pant legs slightly. But last night, they looked great, as almost everyone wore properly exposed hosiery.
Was it because this was a Negro League tribute? I can’t imagine the players would treat any game any differently than any other (although I am pleased if they did). But if their comfort is paramount and looks be damned, then why did they all (except for maybe 2 or 3 players) go high cuffed? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but I just don’t get it…why not dress “appropriately” for all throwback games? I can only imagine the uniforms HAD to have been cut differently, but why on earth would that be? Anyone want to take a guess or have an answer?
Anyway, just a great effort by both teams, and a beautiful game to watch (from an aesthetic standpoint anyway). If the next batch of throwbacks are going to look this good, then I say, “Let’s play two.”
BTW…if you’d like to read more, there is some great Negro League history here if you’re interested.
Here’s an oldie, but a goodie from Mr. Pearson. A day early, perhaps, but it still sums up the real meaning of Memorial Day. Here’s Rick:
Don’t you love a three-day weekend? Always good to remember WHY it’s a three-day weekend, though. Isn’t about special navy blue hats, or red hats or white hats. It’s about people who aren’t here anymore. And we are.
Enjoy your full-color Sunday Benchies.
Back again with more Uniform Tweaks, Concepts and Revisions today. Lots to get to, and if you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way.
First up today is Tim Holding with a redesign for the Phoenix Coyotes:
Just been working on uni tweak given the Coyotes are going to have new owners and their 15th anniversary this year.
Our second set of tweaks comes from Michael Jaszewski, who has a new home and road for the Gophers:
I’m a lifelong U of M football fan (it’s a rough gig) and I HATE the current uniforms, so I thought I’d have a go at redesigning them.
The first thing I wanted to do was get back to the classic uniforms – the uniforms the team wore when it was national champions – with some modern updates. The helmet reverts back to white, but unlike the helmets from the early 60s, which had numbers on the side, I stuck with a block M. I bumped up the size of that block M, however, and I made it gold, with maroon outline. With the exception of the home jersey, the maroon is de-emphasized so that the nickname “Golden” Gophers makes sense. The away jerseys have gold numbers with thick, maroon outlines. The sleeves themselves are gold with thin maroon piping on the shoulder (that’s the most modern element of these uniforms) and the numbers in white with thick maroon ourlines. The pants are solid gold. The socks are maroon with what I’d call a “half Northwestern stripe.”
It’s probably too late to hope the team dons something like these for the 2010 season, but one can always hope 2011 sees them harkening back to their glory days — both in their record and their uniforms.
The third concepts today come from Ryan Raggio, who, like so many others, doesn’t like the current Mets uniforms:
I really can’t stand what the Mets have done to their unis in recent years. I figured their black phase would blow over as just another trend of the 90s, but boy was i wrong…thirteen years strong and only getting worse. At least I can find happiness in Microsoft Paint. I copied and pasted off of Wikipedia, and then just adjusted colors and fonts etc…
That will do it for today. The tweak submissions are seemingly slowing down, so everybody step it up! (or not). But the tweak section (I’m sure, to the relief of some) may just end up being a once-a-weekend type thing…and you guys don’t really want me to start up again, right? Anyway, keep the tweaks coming! Send them my way. Cheers.
That’s another one in the books, everybody. Thanks again to Jimmy V. and Paul Wiederecht for their wonderful contributions, and to the Bears and Cubans for providing a wonderful looking game. Congrats to Cy Halladay on his perfecto. Get well to David Huff. And maybe, just maybe…we’ll see a bit less celebrating after a walkoff.
Have a great Sunday everyone.
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come. — Terence Mann (Field of Dreams)