Definite Home Advantage - In the best-of-three New York-Penn League playoffs, the higher-seeded team in a series plays two games (if necessary) at home. The lower seed gets one home game and the opening game of the series is always played at the stadium of the lower seed.
That gives the lower seed an advantage for the opening game and the Jamestown Jammers were in that situation this season. But they had an even larger advantage last week when they played host to the State College Spikes in the semifinal series that began on Sept. 6.
What was unusual was that the Spikes and Jammers played a three-game series Sept. 2-4 at Diethrick Park to finish the regular season. State College had already clinched the Pinckney Division title while Jamestown was in second place and was trying to claim the NY-P League's one wild-card berth. The Jammers finally obtained the wild card on the final night of the season, Sept. 4.
That meant after a day off, the Spikes and Jammers would play each other again in the semifinals and the opening game would be right back at Diethrick Park on Sept. 6. When I inquired if the Spikes were going to spend Sept. 5 in Jamestown rather that drive home to State College and then turn around and come right back, I was told they were doing the latter.
The Spikes had already paid their bus company for the return trip to State College on the night of Sept. 4, so they headed home and then returned to Diethrick Park on Sept. 6 for the opening game of the series.
It's not surprising the Spikes lost that opening game.
However, they bounced back with two wins at home.
- - -
Different Travel In 1989 - While the State College Spikes were spending plenty of time on a bus to prepare to open the NY-P League playoffs in Jamestown this year, it was a bit different for another team 24 years ago.
In 1989, the New York Mets' affiliate in the NY-P League was in Pittsfield, Mass., after relocating from Little Falls. It had won the McNamara Division title while the Jamestown Expos had won the Stedler Division.
There were just two divisions in the NY-P League then and there were no wild cards, so the division champions met in a best-of-three series for the championship.
Because Pittsfield had the better record, it opened the series in Jamestown. But instead of riding a bus from Pittsfield to Jamestown, the Mets flew into Buffalo airport and then bused to Jamestown from there.
Before the game, some of the Pittsfield players were acting a bit cocky about flying to the game. A few hours later they boarded their plane in Buffalo and flew back to Pittsfield with a loss under their belts after the Expos won the opening game, 4-3, by scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Then the Expos boarded a bus at midnight and rode all night and well into the morning to Western Massachusetts. The usual seven- to eight-hour ride took longer because the bus made an incorrect turn and the Expos didn't arrive in Pittsfield until 9:45 a.m.
Bus-weary Jamestown took on Pittsfield again that night and lost, 4-2. But the following night, the Expos won, 1-0 on a complete game six-hitter by Jim Eddy to win the NY-P League championship.
- - -
Seeing Red - I wonder if Curtis Strange does a slow burn every time he has to hear television commentators refer to Tiger Woods wearing his traditional red shirt for the final round of a golf tournament.
They make it sound like it's a tradition that Woods started, but Strange was the first to go with red shirts in the final round of tournaments 25 years ago.
In 1988, Strange became the first golfer to win a million dollars on the PGA Tour in a season and that's when he started his red-shirt tradition.
Strange wore a red shirt when he won the Independent Insurance Agent Open in a playoff over Greg Norman in May. A few weeks later he won the Memorial Tournament, again wearing a red shirt for the final round. He also had on a red shirt for the final round of the U.S. Open in which he tied Nick Faldo to force a playoff. The next day he won the playoff wearing a white shirt.
The following year, Strange became the first person to win back-to-back U.S. Opens since Ben Hogan did it in 1950 and 1951 by winning the title again at Oak Hill Country Club and he wore a red shirt in the final round.
- - -
'A-Maysing' Reading - I am finally finishing up a great baseball biography, Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend by James S. Hirsch. I found it in a bargain bin and it was worth every cent, which wasn't much.
I saw Mays play in person plenty of times and once had a foul ball from his bat bounce off my hand at Forbes Field. However, I learned plenty I didn't know about him in this book.
There are some very interesting tidbits that stood out.
For instance, in 1949 the Pittsburgh Pirates had a chance to sign Mays when he was still playing in the Negro League for the Birmingham Black Barons. The Birmingham manager, Piper Davis, ran into a Pittsburgh scout following the team and told him the Pirates could have Mays for $2,000. The scout turned him down and said even if they signed Mays, the Pirates would make a pitcher of him.
Years later in an interview, Davis said, "They could have had (Roberto) Clemente in right and Mays in center."
Or how about Hank Aaron in right?
The Braves also had a good chance to sign Mays and one scout followed him for more than a year waiting for him to graduate from high school. The Braves sent another scout to check out Mays weeks before he graduated. He played in a doubleheader and was only 1-for-8 at the plate. The scout thought maybe Mays couldn't hit major-league pitching and told the owner he wasn't worth the $7,500 they planned to pay him.
Speaking of Clemente, he won four National League batting titles. He had won three before the 1966 season when Pirates manager Harry Walker asked Clemente to sacrifice his batting average a bit and hit more home runs that year. Clemente did and in two seasons he hit 52 home runs and drove in 229 runs, and he still hit .336. He also was named the NL most valuable player in 1966.
Walker was fired midway through the 1967 season, Clemente returned to his regular style and won his fourth batting title.
In contrast, midway through the 1954 season, Giants manager Leo Durocher asked Mays to try less for home runs, which were often with the bases empty, and try to get on base more so he could produce more runs that way. Mays had 36 homers at that point, but hit only five more for the remainder of the season. He was hitting .326, but finished the season winning the batting title with a .345 average.
I guess that's why players such as Clemente and Mays are called superstars.
Here's a really neat tidbit. In 1965, Mays was on the Dating Game television program and actress Judy Pace selected him as her bachelor for a date, which was supposed to be in Ankara, Turkey. Mays said he didn't want to go to Turkey and a trip to Nassau in the Bahamas was substituted.
One of the viewers of that Dating Game program was St. Louis outfielder Curt Flood, who took an interest in Pace. He spent a year trying to meet her and 20 years later they were married!