Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum: Feeling Like You're 10 Again

Like any rites of passage, the day I turned ten-years-old was a big day in my life. Though I was still unable to vote, drive, or join the army, I was now eligible to participate in a tradition far more important.

As I flipped the calendar from age nine to 10, I was finally old enough to try out for Little League. Up until now, I had played a few dozen neighborhood games of ball, but was always the last guy picked.

I was lacking in several critical areas that "the scouts" seemed to pick up on, including the ability to hit, throw or field a ball. I was the proverbial zero tool player.

With the help of my two, extremely patient, Little League coaches, I soon learned to hold a bat without having my arms crossed and how to throw like a boy. I mastered fielding a grounder without moving to the side and how to get under a fly without covering my head for safety.

But, there was a lesson taught that was far more important than learning how to throw or hit or field. A lesson taught to each and every Little Leaguer since it's inception 70 years ago; to win gracefully and lose with dignity.

So, when I had an opportunity to speak to Janice L. Ogurcak, Director of the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, I felt as if I was speaking more to one of my teachers than to the curator of a museum.

"Most of our visitors come from far away", explained Ogurcak, who became the museums director in 2005. "We get visitors of all ages from all places, each remembering what Little League meant to them."

"Our senior citizen guests especially come in and tell us what a really important impact Little League had on the rest of their lives."

Ogurcak is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operation of the museum, which has about 30,000 visitors each year. She and her staff are responsible for maintenance of the many Little League artifacts, rotation of exhibits, special events, the museum gift shop and educational programs.

The museum is part of the Little League International Complex and offers interactive exhibits, which use a hands on approach to teach about the history of Little League.

The museum chronicles the growth of the league from one, three-team league in 1939 to the multi-national youth sporting organization that it is today.

Directly behind the museum is the Howard J. Lamade Stadium and the Little League Volunteer Stadium, where the Little League World Series is played each year in August.

"During that ten day period, our attendance at the museum will jump from about 100 visitors per day to anywhere from 500 to 1000" added Ogurcak. "We expect about 10,000 people to walk through the museum next week alone."

The most inspiring part of the museum is the Little League Hall of Excellence, where visitors enjoy the motivating stories of Little League graduates, who have gone on to distinguished careers as adults.

Members are selected not for what they did on the diamond, but for their contribution to society and include Ozzie Newsome, Dusty Baker, George W. Bush, Tom Selleck and even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, each of whom grace the walls of the Hall of Excellence.

"The museum really made an impression on Kevin Costner when he was inducted," explained Ogurcak.

"He was so moved by the museum that he wanted to play on the ball field. He ended up taking a group of Little Leaguers onto the field at 11:00 that night to play baseball."

The museum gift shop has recently adopted the book A Glove of Their Own as a way to teach sharing and baseball to their many guests.

"We have a lot of people come into the shop, who know the book and how popular it is around the country. I am impressed that they know of the book considering it has been out such a short time."

"We were hoping that the authors could come in and sign for us this year, but we are hoping to have a big signing event to start next year."

Coach Bob Salomon, a driving force behind the award winning book is equally excited about aligning the book with the Little League Museum.

"The ideals and principles taught in our book are identical to those taught in Little League", said Salomon. "Teamwork, sharing and love of the game by our children, walks hand in hand in the book and in the spirit of Little League."

"To me, it's a perfect match," he added. "I'm truly humbled and excited that the Little League Museum is supporting our book."

The museum is located on U.S. Route 15 in South Williamsport, Pa., next to the Little League International Administration Building. Admission is $5 for adults (and children ages 14-17); $1.50 for children ages 5-13; and $3 for senior citizens (62 and over). Children age four and younger are admitted free of charge. Group tours and rates are available. Call 570-326-3607 for more information.

Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. After Labor Day, the museum is open Friday and Saturday only, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Todd Civin is a freelance writer for Bleacher Report and Seamheads. He can be reached at for comment or hire. He is also a supporter of A Glove of Their Own, the award-winning children's story that is capturing the heart of the nation by teaching sharing through baseball.

AGOTO is supported by players and coaches including Jason Grilli, Ken Griffey, Joe Torre, Craig Biggio, Sean Casey, Dick Drago, Luis Tiant, Phil Niekro, Ed Herrmann, and The Joe Niekro Foundation as part of their fundraising campaigns. Visit A Glove of Their Own and purchase under donor code JNF636 The Joe Niekro Foundation. With each sale $3.00 will go to The Foundation which is Aiding in the Research and Treatment of Aneurysm Patients and their Families.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Through the Eyes of the...Pizza Maker: It's All About the Pepperoni

The following is part of a weekly series called "Through the Eyes of..." In each segment, I share interviews with or stories about those I view to be the "Good Guys."

"Through the Eyes of..." is a part of my personal crusade to present baseball in all its beauty, splendor, and goodness, instead of through hashing and rehashing all that is broken with our national treasure.

If you think about it realistically, I was destined to be portly.

Having entered the world weighing in at a whopping 10 pounds and four ounces with jowls like a Boston Terrier, it should come as no surprise that I've spent most of my adult life battling my weight. Odds-makers would say the weight is winning.

One year for Halloween, in fact, I dressed up as the No. 10 with an anorexic friend of mine. In high school, I was voted the Most Likely to Explode. And my bra size has just surpassed my wife's.
So when I came across Sara Matson on LinkedIn, I instantly knew that we just had to "chew the fat."
See, Sara, who is originally from Pasadena, Calif., has the coolest job in New England, this side of being the Hot Fudge Tester at Dairy Queen.
Sara has parlayed her college degree into a job as the Pizza Maker for the Portland Seadogs, and she is my new best friend.
Not only is Sara a professional "Crust"-acian, but she was kind enough to answer every question I could think of regarding ballpark pizza in my next segment of "Through the Eyes of..."

Civ: Do you eat Pizza for Breakfast?

Pizza Girl: No, I don't eat pizza or Chinese food for breakfast. I eat healthy all day because I'm a gym rat; I eat pizza at work because I'm also cheap and it's free.

Civ: How did you get the job as a pizza maker for the Sea Dogs?

Pizza Girl: First, I majored in Sociology. Then, I realized you can't really do anything with that kind of degree, so I printed off a Sea Dogs application on the Internet, attached a list of all the pizza experience I’ve had, and turned it in.

Looking back, it’s a small miracle that I got that job. It seems like everyone except me is related to someone else there.

Civ: How many pizzas do you make a game?

Pizza Girl: On a decent night, about 120. But it varies with the weather, the day of the week, whether or not it’s Bobble-head night.

Civ: Personally, do you like thick crust or thin and how does this affect your pizza making prowess?

Pizza Girl: I never really thought about it. As long as the pizza comes out round and without any holes, I consider it a success.

Civ: Do you have a bright future on dough rolling?

Pizza Girl: Let me clarify. Pizza maker is not my primary job. It's just my fun job. Working for a health insurance company doesn't sound that interesting, so I use "pizza maker" as my job on Linked In.

Working for the Sea Dogs is awesome, but my dream is to own my own pizza delivery place one day. I’m earning my AABA at the moment, and working for the Sea Dogs keeps me in the food industry loop.

Civ: Do you hope to get the call to the majors to make pizza for the Red Sox?

Pizza Girl: I wouldn’t mind getting traded to the Dodgers for a player to be named later. But I’d settle for working at Fenway if they throw a parking space into my contract.

Civ: How do you make just a slice of pizza as opposed to an entire pie?

Pizza Girl: We used to cut each slice individually, but it was difficult to get all the pieces a uniform size. The curved side of the pizza wasn’t the problem; it was the acute angle. When our protractor broke, we decided to just switch to making a whole pie and cutting it into eight slices. ("Make sure they know I'm fooling.")

Civ: Who is the coolest person you made pizza for?

Pizza Girl: My boss, of course. But there have been some pretty cool guests at Hadlock including President and Barbara Bush, Johnny Pesky, Oil Can Boyd and the Neil Diamond impersonator.

Civ: Do they stop serving after the seventh inning like they do with beer?

Pizza Girl: The concession stands remain open for a while after that, but the kitchen closes at the bottom of the seventh. We just make sure the stands have enough pizza to get through the rest of the night. People are usually either full or broke by then, anyway.

Civ: Do you get offended when the fans sing "buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks"? Does this give those junk foods an unfair advantage?

Pizza Girl: Is the US Pro Cycling Team offended because the only member everyone knows is Lance Armstrong? No, because he brings attention to their sport. Peanuts and Cracker Jacks merely bring the fans to the concession lines.

Once they see we offer pizza, they might change their minds. Additionally, when we walk around the stadium with pizza boxes, fans inevitably yell “Pizza!” when they see us. I might venture to say we are the third most popular set of employees there, behind Slugger and the beer man.

So no, I don’t feel threatened by the lopsided lyrics of Take Me Out to The Ballgame.

Civ: What was the best special event the Sea Dogs have held?

Pizza Girl: That’s easily the annual Field of Dreams Day/Fan Appreciation Day. The players wear vintage 1926 Portland Eskimo uniforms and walk slowly onto the field through a row of corn in center field while an announcer reads the “The one constant through all the years has been baseball” quote from Field of Dreams.

The ovation seems to last forever. When it quiets down, the players applaud the fans. I get choked up every time I see it.

Civ: Give me a run down of a day with the dough.

Pizza Girl: I get to the game three hours early. I walk past the players as I go in. While most people leave work when they hear the 5 o'clock whistle, I leave when I hear "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." It doesn't get much better than that.

We basically make all the pizzas in advance and keep them in towers until the concession stands call us. When they do, we throw some pizzas in the oven and 6 minutes and 40 seconds later, we take them out and walk them over to the stand that called.

We also make pizzas for the fans in the Sky Boxes (private boxes at the press box level, usually holding private gatherings of some sort), and occasionally make them for the press, the players, and the umpires.

Civ: What is the most challenging part of being a pizza maker for the Sea Dogs?

Pizza Girl: The worst weekend on the job was when we had several rain delays and subsequent double-headers the same time Big Papi was in town on a rehab assignment. Throw in a bobblehead night, and it was an absolute zoo. It was capped off perfectly when my colleague knocked over a tower holding 33 pizzas.

Civ: Are you a Red Sox fan or play the role as part of your assignment?

Pizza Girl: I’m a Dodger fan. I love them with everything that’s in me. But the enemy of the enemy is my friend. As a Dodger fan, you have to hate the Yankees, and so it’s easy for me to root for the Red Sox. I don’t know if wearing my Dodger hat around the park after I punch out will get me canned, but I don’t want to take any chances.

Civ: Do you have a philosophy of pizza making that separates you from the average Joe in the Dough?

Pizza Girl: Every day I ask myself: What did I do to beat the Yankees today? I figure one extra slice of pepperoni might make the difference between a good slice of pizza and a bad slice of pizza. If the fan is happy with her meal, she'll be more likely to come to another Sea Dogs game and buy food.

And the more the fans spend, the better players we can get. Move over, "Moneyball." It's all about the pepperoni.

Todd Civin is a freelance writer who writes for The Bleacher Report and Seamheads. He is also a supporter of, "A Glove of Their Own," the award-winning children's story that teaches paying it forward through baseball. The Joe Niekro Foundation is the most recent non-profit organization to join the A Glove of Their Own team and will earn $3.00 from each sale of the book purchased using the donor code JNF636 Joe Niekro Foundation.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Stories Continue To Leak About Fenway's Famed Trough

It was about the fourth inning of the Red Sox and Orioles game.

My third Bud Light was about to exit my urethra, and if I didn't talk to a man about a horse soon I would be tinkling up in the Dunkin Dugout.

The sun shined brightly on the bleachers, and I was part of a mass exodus for the men's room as Beckett whiffed Aubrey Huff.

I'm not sure what the score was at that point. For a brief moment in time, I don't think any of us did. It was time to drain the vein.

About a dozen of the Bleacher Creatures made their way out of Section 121 all with the same sense of purpose. The Dirty Dozen, as we would affectionately be known, bypassed the mile-long beer line, but each committed to refueling after we tapped a kidney.

One by one, we took our positions at the beautiful porcelain fixtures which adorned the Fenway Walls. With our barn doors open and the Sox up by a deuce, we began to talk of First Place, while we eliminated Number One.

The tall and red faced man next to me, who I'll call Johnson, looked over at me and smiled kindly. I have to admit made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Not because he longed to sneak a peak, but because he chose to speak to me while I Freed Willy.

But when I heard what he spoke of, I felt uncomfortable no longer. He spoke of a friend of ours that all of us held in high esteem. No male enters Fenway's Hallowed Halls (aka the Watering Hole) without speaking of the Trough.

For those of you who never had the pleasure, the Trough was to men at Fenway what Niagara Falls is to lovers. It is a must see for all those who love being a guy.

The trough reeked of soiled urine and ran constantly. Indefinitely. I assume the trough ran during away games and during winters away from the park. There is nearly a scent in nature that recreates the smell of the Trough. And hardly a topic in Wikipedia that brings a smile more quickly to the face of anyone with XY chromosomes.

The trough reeked of ammonia and had mounds of some of the most beautiful locks of hair known to man littering its rusted edge.

The trough has peaked up at The Iron Man, The Splendid Splinter, Mick the Stick and Pesky's Pole. And has heard conversations about famous Red Sox and Yankees players, too.

The Trough did its duty while we did ours, through Yankee and Red Sox brawls and through World Championship droughts. There was never a drought at the trough. Always ready to keep it's customers flowing.

The beauty of the trough was it allowed no privacy. I could peak over at the dude next to me out of the corner of my eye and he at me and no words needed to be exchanged—we just knew what the other was thinking.

I'll never forget the day during a game between the White Sox (also known ironically as the Hose). I looked over at a tall man who claimed to be from Jamaica but looked like he was from Nantucket, and marveled at the tattoo that adorned his mighty Boa. I noticed it said W-E-N-D-Y.

I asked the tall and powerful man of his dink ink and he said in a beautiful Montego Bay accent. "No mon...don't say Wendy. Says Welcome to Jamaica Have A Nice Day." I glanced down and never felt more insignificant.

The trough has been replaced now by 66 of the most beautiful porcelain urinals you'll ever see. Clean and pristine. Alone and isolated. The conversations are less common now as we find ourselves a bit more private. I shiver slightly when I think of her and wonder what I will talk to my son about when we go to a game.

I can only hope and pray that the Trough has a special place in the Fenway Hall of Fame. If She doesn't...I'll be really pissed.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Fenway's Sausage King: Nine Inches of Pure Pleasure

As an athlete and in most things I do, I consider myself to be a middle of the packer. An average hitter, with average speed (in my day of course) and an arm maybe slightly above average.

As a distance runner, the thoroughbreds win, the plow horses bring up the rear, and I am at best a Clydesdale. And in football, the half back scored, the full back opened the holes and I was a situational back.

But when it comes to eating, I am in a league of my own. Oh sure, Joey Chestnut or Kobayashi I'm not, but put a couple of Big Macs and a Super Sized Fry in front of me and move over Rosie O'Donnell. There's only enough room in this Bleacher Seat for one of us.

I was at a digestive advantage right from the get go. As I journeyed down the birth canal, the surgical team requisitioned an extraction team to dislodge me from a tight connection with my Mom.

Tipping the nursery scale at 10 pounds and four ounces of bouncing boy, with a bulbous head, broad shoulders and a belly which resembled Buddah’s, I was described by my Dad as “sort of a dumb looking lad."

He has taken great pleasure over the years by explaining that the nursing staff was seen “slapping the daylights out of the big kid, who kept forgetting to breathe". It was hours later, that Dad found out that the big kid was his son.

Yes, I was the largest of the family litter. I entered the world thinking of food and searching for the nearest Denny's. A jack in the box wasn’t a thing I played with, but the place I pointed to as Mom brought me home from the hospital. She jokes that instead of teething on one of those Playschool Plastic Donuts, I longed for Dunkin’s.

In my baby pics, I looked a bit like Porky Pig, with chubby jowls and and three chins. Mom was forced to feed me cereal from the day I got home from the hospital as neither the bottle nor the boobies would keep my man-size belly adequately nourished.

She says that I devoured bowl after bowl of Farina and Zwiebacks from Good Morning, Mary Sunshine to Good Night Moon.

My quest for nourishment continued when Mom received a phone call from the school principal on my first day of kindergarten. It seems that toddler Todd had aborted his first trip to the merry go round and had pilfered a couple of his classmates recess snacks. I allegedly engorged myself with Arthur Arguin’s six powdered donuts, in addition to the stale brownies Mom had baked. Oops, my bad.

As a ten-year old, I was crowned the Blueberry Pie Eating Champion of the Spencer Fair, an honor I would hold for three consecutive autumn fairs. Season after season I would be challenged by over-confident teens several years my elder. It reminded me of the Barf-o-rama scene from the movie Stand By Me. "And the Women's Auxiliary barfed all over the Benevolent Order of Antelopes."

My prowess continued in college, when six TEP brothers were “firmly asked” to step back from the buffet by some of northern New York’s finest. It seems as though we thought the “All You Can Eat Buffet” at Ponderosa meant we didn't have to leave any for others. “But officer, it states all you can eat. We can eat all of this, sir.”

During my wedding ceremony, Katie had to hunt me down as I chose to sample from the exquisite chocolate fondue fountain prior to wedding pictures. The photographer thought he could “Photoshop the stains from the pictures.”

So a few years back when my boss Tom informed me that, the legend, Bob Cotoumas, held the company "All-time Record" for sausages consumed before a Red Sox game, I licked my proverbial chops. I knew the gauntlet had been laid and I could taste victory.

He told me the rules of the game, though I knew I was going to accept the challenge without knowing any guidelines.

  • The record is five sausages consumed prior to the throwing of the first pitch.
  • All sausages had to be purchased from The Sausage King on Landsdowne Street outside Gate E of Fenway.
  • Partial sausages ingested do not count (Ex. five and a bite does not constitute a record).

Move over Cotoumas, I thought. There's a new sheriff in town.

We got to Kenmore about two hours before game time and made our way towards Landsdowne. We already may have had a cold one or two that morning, so I may have been at a "competitive disadvantage".

I remember rubbing my hands together in anticipation as we walked past the scalpers on the way to the Park. We grabbed some literature from John 3:16 who passes out letters of salvation. Then past the guy playing the plastic pail drum sets as the Cask n' Flagon entered our view.

Right next to Game On outside of Fenway's Gate E, I came face to face with the Sausage King. The familiar red and yellow sign framed the King and his Imperial Margarine Crown.

The Sausage King is owned by a pair of local brothers and boasts "Nine Inches of Pure Pleasure" to rookie patrons and repeat customers alike. Trust me, I've tried them all, and no one fills your buns like the King.

I know what you're thinking: what's a good Jewish boy like me doing eating sausage? Same question the Rabbi asked when I got a tattoo. Once again, Oops, my bad.

The Sausage King is the senior cart at Fenway and has been serving happy fans for 25 years. Their energy is perpetual from pre-game to post and they are as much a part of the Red Sox experience as the pee-pee trough and George the peanut vendor.

Tom told the guys of my quest and they laughed in unison, while setting me up with number one. Number two went into the on-deck circle before I took the first bite of my maiden meat. It was delicious.

Tender hot sausage heaping with perfectly grilled peppers and onions. A bit of the overflow spilled onto my hand as I opened wide and took on the leadoff hitter. Juice dripped onto my "Yankees Suck" t-shirt as I completed the first 16 percent of the task at hand.

Being a bit of a numbers guy, I started calculating "Nine inches of pure pleasure" times six and suddenly realized I'd be eating 4 1/2 feet of Jimmy Dean's before my day was done.

Well, one became two and two became three and Cotoumas' record was in jeopardy.

I was into the King lingo now and ordered up number four "On the Bottom", which means I wanted the onions and peppers on the bottom before they inserted their meat. Terms such as "Naked Bird" and "Bird Loaded" add to the Sausage King menu of chicken teriyaki, steak tips and foot long dogs, but I'm a guy who "likes it on the bottom."

Tom and the other PEP-direct guys started to crack jokes about Debbie and Dallas as I limped through number four. I was failing fast, but I was commited to gutting it out.

The crowd started to chant To-dd, To-dd like they had done to Daryl Strawberry in '86 as the Kings started to dress number five. I reached for the Ketchup. I had eaten the first four plain and some how thought that Ketchup would grease the skids.

And then disaster struck. Instead of grabbing the bottle of Heinz I grabbed the look-a-like bottle of Hot Sauce. I choked quicker than the Yankees after game three as sweat began to form on my upper lip.

One of the employees tried to warn me by saying , "Hey, not too much." But I truly thought he was being stingy about the ketchup. My wife claims, I don't listen to anyone. My bad, yet again!

I screamed "No Mas" like Roberto Duran vs. Hagler and waved a white napkin of surrender.

Cotoumas' record was safe for another day.

As we found our seats in Section 3, Tom headed to the beer line to grab us a beer. "Sausage, Todd?" he asked.

Thanks, TC. I think I'll pass.