Some clouds and a lengthy baseball story

With only dry weather temperature fluctuations ahead into the first half of November for us here in Catalina, I thought I would resuscitate this blog with a few cloud shots from the past few days, ones I was too lazy to get out there in a timely manner.   OK, here’s some sky “dessert.”

6:25 AM, Oct. 24. Altocumulus perlucidus.
6:25 AM, Oct. 24. Ac perlucidus toward the Catalina Mountains.
9:02 AM, Oct. 24. Ac perlucidus undulatus (has rolls or billows).
7:27 AM, Oct. 24th. Ac perlucidus undulatus again. What’s the temperature? Answer: not low enough for ice production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A baseball story

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Now I am going to bore you, unless you are a fanatical baseball fan concerned with the tiniest minutae of that game, with a personal baseball story.   It seems semi-appropriate with the World Series underway.  Its a glimpse of the behind the scenes world of Major League baseball.  But, to pique your interest,  the 1980 University of Arizona National Championship baseball team is mentioned, as is the giant El Nino water year of 1982-83.  This vignette is completely true, not made up.  I post it mostly because there is some humor in it, I hope.

Mr. Cloud-Maven person, when his semi-pro baseball career was winding down in Seattle in the early 1980s, turned to serving up baseballs for the awful Seattle Mariners in the awful Kingdome, that is, was a batting practice pitcher for awhile.  Here is the story about how that came about.

It does not end well.

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When Mariner coach, Frank Funk, called me in from the bullpen, I was pretty nervous.  I had never before pitched to major league batters.  Tommy Davis, the former Dodger and then the Mariner hitting coach, had been nice enough to warm me up out there instead of one of the Mariner catchers.

I strolled onto the Husky Ballpark mound, heart pounding.  I had played at this venue, Husky Ballpark, many times for Seattle’s Paintings Unlimited team, an unlikely name for a semi-pro team, but still, the whole scenario of the Husky Ballpark filled with major league players just after the 1981 baseball strike ended was surreal.

Since I didn’t follow major league baseball, was too busy PLAYING baseball for Paintings, I had no idea who the first batter was that stepped into the batters box for BP, his gray hair protruding prominently from under his Seattle Mariner cap.  I thought he might be a coach just to check me out before the actual players stepped in for batting practice.  I began throwing to him in as machine-like mode as I could, one ball after another, no dawdling.  I threw exactly as I did to my semi-pro team before our games, which was hard for normal BP and not the normal loopy, bloopy BP you see.  I liked hard BP, and dammitall, that’s the way others would get it, too.

Somehow I got into a rhythm in spite of my nervousness and it was one strike after another.  I focused totally on a small area of the net behind home plate as hard as I have ever concentrated on anything.  I was giving up a lot of solid line drives and homers.  After the old guy with the gray hair sticking out from under his cap, it was a series of Mariners; Lenny Randle, Gary Gray, Julio Cruz, Bruce Bochte, etc., maybe a couple of others.   Gray, who was having a great start until the major league baseball strike, hit quite a few out.  The whole forgettable 1981 Mariner roster is here, though why anyone would want to look at it is puzzling.

I found out a day or two later who that first, gray-haired batter was; it turned out to be Tom Paciorek, the Mariner who was then leading the American League in hitting!  Honestly, I had no idea who he was.

After my BP stint at Husky Ballpark that day I got a lot of positive comments from the players, “sweet BP” and such.  I was told by Coach Funk that they would likely call me down to the Kingdome when the games resumed to help out with BP.  Of course, I could never be sure that it would really happen; maybe they were just being nice.

But, in any event, whether they did or not, I had a witness to the scene that fun day, not that being a BP pitcher is that big a deal; lots of guys can do it.  My good friend, Steve Rutledge with whom I played catch with at the U of WA all the time, was there at Husky ballpark that Saturday afternoon, and saw the whole “drama” unfold.

Still, in spite of being a lowly servant wearing a numberless Mariner uniform, it was pretty exciting to throw BP.   My whole desire for throwing it was really just to see how different a major league team was in hitting a baseball compared to my own Seattle Paintings Unlimited team to whom I pitched BP to regularly.   I liked to throw BP with velocity, and my team loved it.   “Regularly” meant throwing a LOT of BP, too!  In the Western International League that we played in,  there were four-nine-inning games a week beginning in June and continuing through August.  The WIL was a league comprised of a sprinkling of ex-pros and summer college teams, like the Washington Huskies.  One stalwart to play in that summer league (now the Pacific International League) many years later was current Giant superstar, and former Washington Husky, Tim Lincecum.

In the days that I played for the Seattle’s Paintings Unlimited team, generally 3rd base or outfield, we had a regular supply of pro baseball signees: eight were signed to minor league contracts from that one team during my 5 year tenure.  Several made the major leagues, if only for “a cup of coffee.”  One was Mike Kinunen, who, the very next year after his 1979 season with Paintings, was pitching for the Minnesota Twins and against the likes of the Yankees’ Don Mattingly!    In 1979, when  I batted cleanup for the Paintings team, the hitter before me, Jay Erdahl, was to make the last out at the College World Series in Omaha in 1980 as his Hawaii Rainbows lost twice to the Arizona Wildcats in the two games that year for the National Championship.  So I did know how well good amateur players hit.   It was a heady time to be playing in the WIL!

But in 1981, at 39 years of age, and competing against area college players trying to make the team, I demoted to the bench,  hardly playing.  For all the years that I played beginning in 1977, I had been the oldest starting player in the WIL and was always vulnerable.  In 1981, riding the bench, warming up pitchers, coaching at 1st base, it was the end of an era really; I was hungry to do something more with a baseball.  And it was one summer day that year that I read that that the Seattle Mariners, following the end of the 1981 baseball strike, would begin working out at the University of Washington where I worked as a staff meteorologist.    So, I went down to see if I would be allowed to do something.  It was kind of a ludicrous thought to think you could just show up and ask to pitch BP, but I did, and it happened.

The next day after that impromptu BP session at Husky Ballpark there was a tiny mention of  my BP effort in the Seattle Times.  And, to top it off, someone in the Department who had seen that little note in a small font in the Times had pasted it on my desk at the “U-Dub”, along with a little sign that read that there would be a “$1 charge for seeing the desk of Art Rangno.”  It was pretty funny.  An awful lot of guys can throw BP, but to my co-workers and grad students it was something special for a staff member they knew to do that.

A few days later the 1981 baseball season resumed its abbreviated schedule, and while I was at work, I “got the call” to join the major league team—as a batting practice pitcher!

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The Mariners were pretty bad during my stint 1981-1983 as a BP pitcher  under manager Rene Lachmann.  All during that time I threw my style of BP, getting on the mound and throwing with velocity, the kind I liked to hit against.   Everything seemed to be fine doing so, a style that was different from the other BP pitchers, but the players had liked it that day at Husky Ballpark, so I kept throwing it that way, not moving up from the mound and throwing loopy balls as did the other BP pitchers (usually there are about three).
In 1984, I was “released” by Del Crandall, the new Mariner manager.  Instead of having local amateurs come in and pitch, the team would now use its coaches almost exclusively for BP, with I think, one exception, Jerry Fitzgerald, a fellow “volunteer” BP pitcher who was a lefty.  Lefties are always in demand!

But there was another factor that lead to my “release” in 1984, one that came out of the blue, a factor that was hard for me to believe.

In one BP session later in the 1983 season at the Kingdome, one in which the last place Mariners had the lowest team batting average by 20 points at 0.237, Steve Gordon, the Mariner bullpen catcher in those days, caught me.  Usually you just threw to the netting behind home plate.   At one point while I was throwing, Steve raised his right arm in a throwing motion and waved it at me several times, using an overhand motion.   Since I was throwing one strike after another with velocity (no looping BP throws from this guy!), I thought he was signaling to me about how great I was throwing.

Not.

When my session was over, Steve came over to me and said, “The guys are getting pissed because you’re cutting the ball.”

“Cutting” the ball in baseball meant that you are throwing a ball that had movement; it was not going on a straight line which makes it eminently hittable.  You would think that BP against the kind of ball thrown normally in the games, one with movement, would be a good thing to practice against, but not so.

But  I was flabbergasted, and felt truly bad, since as an amateur pitcher from time to time even in the WIL, I never was accused of throwing a ball with movement, a downfall for anyone that wants to pitch.  It was so ironic that I was now being told that my ball had “movement” while throwing BP!

I also began to realize that I wasn’t giving up many home runs while throwing BP in the Kingdome.  The fun part for the players is to just blast the ball as friggin’ far or as hard  as they could, it made them feel good, get confidence,  and that wasn’t happening.  Richie Zisk, the Mariner slugger of the day, once told me I had “the best sinker in the league”, but he was SURELY joking, maybe even being sarcastic I thought.  I forgot about it; it was a ludicrous suggestion.

I began to think about some other not-so-great things that had happened in 1983 as I puzzled about unintended “movement.”  One HUGELY embarrassing thing for a BP pitcher had happened during a session pitching to the struggling Al Cowens; he swung and missed a batting practice pitch!  My face turned red and I kind of apologized, muttering a “sorry” to him.  Then, he broke his bat on another pitch.  I felt so BAD for him!  But I didn’t think I had anything to do with it; he was in mental funk about hitting and in those days, probably would have had trouble hitting a ball off a batting tee, the kind of thing kids use when they’re little.

Another dismal chapter in 1983 involved the aging, overweight Gaylord Perry, a good hitting Hall of Fame pitcher.  He stepped into the batters box during BP one day after he was acquired by the Mariners, wanting to crush a few just for fun—pitchers don’t bat in the American League.  After a few swings and misses, and foul balls, he quit in disgust and yelled at me, “That’s terrible!”

I never forgot THAT comment.   I only wish I had been fast enough to add, “Hey, I was just putting goop on the ball like you did all those years to see how you liked it, you washed up balloon. Players who batted against you should have an extra five percentage points added to their batting averages because you cheated them.”

Perhaps he would have charged the mound in an unforgettable visual treat for the fans; a player charging the batting practice pitcher!

Gaylord Perry was a well-known spitball pitcher who amassed his wins in a dishonest way, but one in which baseball generally looked the other way.  Perry was finally ejected from a game in Seattle in 1983 for doctoring the ball.

In a 1982 weather forecast I made for KZAM-FM, duriing the “clowns and computers” era of media weather forecasting, which meant I had to come up with some “schtick” if I was going to be a media success, I alluded to the Perry methodology in this way:

“There’s a low in deep left Gulf of Alaska, its got moisture and rotation on it, it looks like something Gaylord Perry threw….”  If you’re really interested in what that era of forecasting was like, here is a typical example: KZAM wx forecast styled after Mariner broadcaster Dave Neihaus

Yes, during the BP era I was working fulltime at the UW, throwing BP at times, and had a part time early morning radio forecasting job.

Later, and in trying to be analytical about “movement” on the ball, I thought that maybe my sweaty hand—I was always tense stepping out on the Kingdome mound, had maybe caused that unintended movement.  And BP pitchers were always throwing almost brand new baseballs from a basket next to you, one that held about 40 of them. Those new balls had little friction so you had to be careful throwing them, making sure you had a good grip.  Maybe I was gripping them too tightly?  Since I did not move up from the pitching rubber like the other BP pitchers did and I threw from the mound like a regular pitcher, maybe with more distance and greater velocity (one BP pitcher said I was “throwing rockets”) it gave the ball a chance to move.  When I say I “threw with velocity”, I am talking upper 60s to low 70s at the MOST, just not the loopy, bloopy stuff the other BP pitchers threw from much shorter distances to the batters.  It was nowhere near the speed of major league fastball.

I never did find out what caused the movement the players objected to.

Other things that happened during that BP stint….

Three non-strikes in a row happened a couple of times, and the quiet, that lack of a ball not being struck every second, is really unsettling.  The whole Kingdome seemed to go silent at such moments.  They were rare, but they did happen.  The tension to throw a strike builds incredible fast after the first non-stirke.

In a 1983 session, I hit Mariner centerfielder, Joe Simpson, in the knee.  There was an audible “oohhh” from the tiny early arriving Kingdome crowd.  I wanted to crawl under the pitching rubber.  On another occasion in 1983, Dave Henderson had to duck from under his batting helmet because of an errant pitch.

You know, I am sounding more and more like a really bad BP pitcher!  Maybe I was really a part of that Mariner badness of those days; after all, they were they were the worst hitting team in the Major Leagues that year.   I can imagine a 1983 players reunion in later years, one in which it might be said that, “The Mariners and our organization were so totally bad in those days that even our  batting practice pitchers beaned us before games.”

BPLachmann was fired during the 1983 season, and before he was fired,  he was under intense media scrutiny and pummeled with advice.

Lachmann ran around the perimeter of the outfield before the games, and being out there myself during BP, I remember yelling to him just before he was let go:

“Hey, Rene….about the team….” At this point he turned toward me, one of his BP pitchers, with the darkest frown you can imagine.    I continued:   “I don’t have any advice.”

Lachmann broke up at that punchline and that moment comprises one of my fondest memories.

Another memorable moment was pitching to just two batters, Paciorek and Bochte for my whole 20-25 minute BP stint.  The reason?  They thought my delivery resembled that of Jim Palmer and they were playing the Baltimore Orioles that night with Palmer pitching.  Paciorek and Bochte got five hits that night!

If your wondering, only one batter on one occasion asked to practice hitting against curve balls in BP, John Moses, a Mariner center fielder at one time.

In another humorous moment, a columnist for the Seattle Times suggested the Mariner’s woeful hitting was due to a single, longtime BP pitcher, Carl Benson, who had stopped showing up to throw BP because the Mariner’s had stopped paying him.  Perhaps Benson was so good and raised batter’s confidence level so high that without him the Mariners were in a hitting funk and that might explain why the team had the lowest batting average in the majors.

It was a ludicrous hypothesis, but it triggered a counter thought following the 1983 season.  I wrote a facetious, but serious sounding letter to the Mariners taking full responsibility for the poor team batting average.  As a frustrated amateur ball player throwing BP, I had actually been pitching fantasy games to the batters, working the strike zone, using movement to get them out to see how good I could have been in the Majors.  In my fantasy, I had a record of 21-3 against them in 1983.   Of course, I wrote,  it couldn’t be obvious that I was pitching to get them out, and not really throwing BP.  I had to be subtle and so studied all of the Mariner hitters and where they had “holes” in their swings and worked those zones.  In that letter I apologized for almost hitting Dave Henderson in the head, but I wrote that he was getting “too many hits in batting practice and I had to move him off the plate.”  It seemed humorous to me, anyway.

So, when I showed up in the locker room in 1984, with the “guys”, I was given the word that my services were no longer needed.  I left the locker room kind of embarrassed, passing the security guard I had just said “hello” to, hopped on my bicycle, and rode home.  Yep, I peddled every time to the Kingdome from the U of Washington, and then from there to my home in north Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, probably a good 10 miles total, and with slopes and traffic.

I remember, too, in those simpler days, how easy it was to get in the locker room of the Seattle Mariners with my little bag of equipment, by just saying to the security folks, “BP”.  Of course, after a couple of times they recognized you and in you went to join the “guys.”

It was fun to do that BP, too, because unlike the other BP pitchers, and before I pitched my 20 minutes or so, I ran around in the Kingdome outfield like a mad man chasing those balls hit in batting practice—I mainly played outfield in my amateur career and this was like outfield practice.

A couple of times, too, when a player found out I was a meteorologist at the University of Washington, we would stand around in the outfield during BP and talk weather.  I remember a long conversation with Richie Zisk about El Ninos, a giant, headline-grabbing  one having occurred during the 1982-83 winter.  He really asked a LOT of questions!

BTW, if you were here in Arizona and in Catalina, you would never forget that giant El Nino year here!  That water year (Oct 1982-Sept 1983) we received a Seattle-like 32 inches of rain in Catalina, and 36 inches if you count the next few days of October 1983 when the worst weather disaster in Tucson history struck due to several days of heavy rains associated with tropical storm Nora.

Back to baseball…..

It may seem odd, but I could hardly stand watching a major league game even in the stands right behind home plate.  As a player, playing with top amateur talent, the last thing you wanted to do was sit on your butt and watch other guys play!  You wanted to be playing against the BEST yourself.  My Mariner BP “pay” was to sign in for four free tickets behind home plate with the players’ wives.  But in those three seasons, I only went to one game for a few innings.  I usually gave my tickets away by signing in the names of faculty, staff, or students I knew from the U of WA Atmospheric Sciences Department on the guest ticket list before I left.   While I many of these great seats were used, the Mariners were so bad in those days (1981-1983), that on MANY occasions I couldn’t GIVE away the best seats at a game, the ones right behind home plate!

After awhile, I didn’t make much of an effort since it was kind of embarrassing to be turned down two or three times by my co-workers and grad students.  Almost as bad as being turned down two or three times for a date; well, not THAT bad.

Well, that’s all I can remember right now, but its already too much.

The End