BASEBALL = LOVE : REFLECTIONS ON CAL RIPKEN JR, LOU GEHRIG AND 2131
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Twenty years ago this week Cal Ripken tied and broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record. Twenty years ago. It seems difficult to fathom, actually.
I was proud to have been a part of such a wonderful front office — people who cared about the game of baseball and wanted it represented well both on and off the field. If I could have picked any time in history to have been with the club — including that 1983 season when the Orioles took home the World Series trophy — I would not change a thing. I started out on the ground floor as public relations assistant (who actually had to go out into the stands and sing “Happy Birthday” to fans), worked side-by-side with my mentor Julie Wagner in community relations, and was promoted to Director of Publishing where I stayed until I ended my career with the ballclub in 1998. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade one moment of my time there, even for a World Series ring (though I won’t lie–that would have been a very nice heirloom).
Readers of my blog know my incredible affinity for the ballclub. Pictured above is Cal, on the night of 2131, with his arm around his mother, Vi, Julie Wagner, the Orioles Community Relations Director, and me there in the front (Cal’s dad can be seen off to the left, barely in the photograph). As members of the event team that planned, organized, and executed 2131, we are standing on the field while the tributes and celebrations were happening, and I’ll never forget how Cal’s parents’ faces beamed. I was fortunate to have been assigned as the escort for Cal’s parents for the evening, and I was responsible for getting them where they needed to be as events began to unfold. Our team photographer, Jerry Wachter, captured this moment, and I’ll be forever grateful. Although Julie is probably mid-sentence saying something to me about what was going to happen next because she was one of the lead planners of the ceremonial events, Jerry caught us at just the right moment, and as the Whitney Houston song “One Moment in Time” was played that night, I believe we all felt suspended, relishing Cal’s amazing accomplishment, and sensing Lou Gehrig winking from the Heavens. If only for a moment.
Incidentally, one of the reasons why I hold on so dearly to memories made either at Memorial Stadium or Camden Yards is because some of my dearest friends were made there, memories that I will keep. Whether they are funny stories that make up my collection of 13 years at the ballclub or friendships that continue to grow and flourish even after we’ve moved on, the spirit that was the Orioles will remain with me forever. Cal’s remarkable evening is just one of hundreds of things I’ll always keep in my lovely, baseball memory bank.
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Baseball Girl Takes Home An Honorable Mention in the Annual Readers’ Favorite Contest for Sports Fiction
Last night, my second novel, Baseball Girl, received an Honorable Mention Award in the Annual Readers’ Favorite Contest in the category of sports fiction. As the Readers’ Favorite Contest has become more popular over the years (its first contest year was only in 2009), the competition continues to grow. Having Baseball Girl acknowledged in the category of sports fiction is quite an honor (seeing as I haven’t ever written anything fictional that is sports-based, not even a short story). The recognition of this little story—that grew out of my overactive imagination, but is rooted in some of my own experiences working in baseball—means more to me than words can say, but I’ll try. When I set out to tell this story, all I wanted was for people to enjoy reading it. To take pleasure in it. To want to see what happens to the characters. When I receive a short note, text, or email from someone saying he or she enjoyed Baseball Girl, that’s what makes me happy. Additionally, when a little medallion of an award gets to be placed on the cover of the book in recognition for a job well done—though it may not have garnered first, second, or third place—I am so grateful for the positive feedback I have received and continue to receive. Honestly, it makes me want to be a better writer. Thank you, Jack Magnus and Readers’ Favorite for this lovely recognition. I hope your stamp of approval will encourage other folks who are on the fence about reading the book to give it a whirl and see what happens to Francesca, Archie, Joe, Jack and the rest of the crew.
Jack Magnus’ Review of Baseball Girl:
Baseball Girl: A Novel is a contemporary sports fiction novel written by Stephanie L. Verni. Francesca’s young world revolved around her dad and the baseball games they watched together, both in the stadium and at home. They loved the Bay City Blackbirds, and Francesca knew all the stats and even the team’s scoring system. From the time, she was seven until her dad’s illness and death at age 44 from leukemia, the two of them thrilled to the sounds of the bat hitting the ball and the cheers of the fans. When Francesca was a sophomore in college, a year after he died, she found a help wanted ad for a Public Relations Assistant with the Bay City Blackbirds. It seemed the perfect job for a communications major who just happened to live and breathe baseball.
Stephanie L. Verni’s contemporary fiction novel, Baseball Girl, is a marvelous novel that blends the coming of age, romance and sports fiction genres. The author’s long-term association with the Baltimore Orioles makes the novel feel like the real thing. Verni takes the reader into the inner workings of the front office of a baseball team, and it’s a fascinating look at the hard work, dedication, and stamina needed to be part of that world. While Francesca is no longer a young adult, the interwoven tales of her childhood through to her late twenties, combined with the ongoing trauma of her loss which keeps her locked up inside and unwilling to risk emotional attachments, make this story one of the more compelling coming of age tales I’ve read. Baseball Girl has a strong romantic thread, but the lack of any overtly sexual or erotic themes makes this novel eminently suitable for young adult readers as well as the target adult audience. Verni’s strong and competent Francesca is the perfect role model for young women, especially if they just happen to love sports. Baseball Girl is an awesome read, and it’s most highly recommended.
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Upcoming Book Events in the Baltimore | Annapolis Area
On Sunday, September 27, I’ll be in the Author’s Tent at the Baltimore Book Festival. Last year’s festival was held at the Inner Harbor, and this year it will also be held downtown. I’m scheduled to sell and sign books from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., so if you’re planning on attending, I hope you will stop by and say hello.
On Monday, September 28, I’ll be talking about baseball, books, and maybe even a Mimosa Tree at the Broadneck Library in Annapolis at 7 p.m. I’ll be giving away some goodies, and I’ll have lots of bookmarks and copies of my books on hand.
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Severna Park Voice Article
My local, hometown paper ran a piece on local authors and what we’re up to recently. I’ve linked to it here, and was thrilled to see that they very kindly gave my daughter a photo credit. She’s also an aspiring author, and a pretty amazing photographer as well. Thanks for making me look good, Elle.
Moments in Time
Last week we began our fall semester at Stevenson University. I couldn’t be more fortunate to work at a place with the best bunch of faculty, staff, and students. I absolutely love my job, and every day I have the opportunity to be in the classroom is yet another one of my moments in time.
Thanks for popping in today, and I hope to see some of you soon.
P.S. If you want to take a stroll down memory lane and re-live Cal’s shining moment, I’ve provided the telecast below.
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10 THINGS THAT BASEBALL IDIOMS HAVE TAUGHT ME
My second novel, Baseball Girl, has been prepped and is almost ready to make its appearance on Amazon. The main character, Francesca Milli, learns a few things from her love of baseball in the novel, as you will see if you decide to read it. And although I wrote the main character and modeled some of her experiences after my own life working in professional baseball, she is not me. Therefore, what I’ve learned from baseball may be slightly different than what Francesca learns. I thought I’d share the Top 10 things baseball idioms have taught me.
- Coming home means the world to me.
- It’s important to touch base with people you care about, and often.
- Being on the ball helps make you successful.
- If you’re going to throw someone a curve ball, be prepared for what comes afterwards.
- Playing hardball works sometimes, but it’s not a guarantee for success.
- In life, don’t expect to always bat a thousand. No one is perfect. There’s plenty of room for making mistakes.
- If you’re going to strike out at something, make sure it’s something you love. And then, try again.
- If you’ve got two strikes against you, swing anyway. You never know how far that next ball might travel.
- When you do hit a homerun, don’t boast, make everyone feel a part of your success, and share the joy with those you love. Those who truly love you will be happy for you.
- If you’re going to go to bat for someone, make sure it’s someone who is worthy, and who would likely do the same for you.
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10 MEMORABLE BASEBALL QUOTES
Baseball’s back, the weather is getting brighter here in Baltimore, and I’m coming in from third to home with the writing of my baseball-themed novel. In baseball as in life, quotes can be inspirational, funny, or just tell it like it is. Quotes are a big part of my novel; each chapter’s lead quote ties into something that’s going on in the story, and I’ve had a lot of fun constructing them and their meanings.
Here are some quotes from notable players, coaches, managers, and folks who love the game. I can’t call it my all-time favorite list, but it certainly includes some great ones.
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If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base. — Dave Barry
People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. — Rogers Hornsby
A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz. — Humphrey Bogart
Baseball, to me, is still the national pastime because it is a summer game. I feel that almost all Americans are summer people, that summer is what they think of when they think of their childhood. I think it stirs up an incredible emotion within people. — Steve Busby
There are only two seasons – winter and Baseball. — Bill Veeck
In baseball, you can’t kill the clock. You’ve got to give the other man his chance. That’s why this is the greatest game. — Earl Weaver
Opening Day. All you have to do is say the words and you feel the shutters thrown wide, the room air out, the light pour in. In baseball, no other day is so pure with possibility. No scores yet, no losses, no blame or disappointment. No hanger, at least until the game’s over. — Mary Schmich
I’m a guy who just wanted to see his name in the lineup everyday. To me, baseball was a passion to the point of obsession. — Brooks Robinson
In the beginning I used to make one terrible play a game. Then I got so I’d make one a week and finally I’d pull a bad one about once a month. Now, I’m trying to keep it down to one a season. — Lou Gehrig
All the ballparks and the big crowds have a certain mystique. You feel attached, permanently wedded to the sounds that ring out, to the fans chanting your name, even when there are only four or five thousand in the stands on a Wednesday afternoon. — Mickey Mantle
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THE HEART OF BASEBALL — FOR LOVE OF THE GAME
Last week was an exciting one. Despite our recent move to a different county, we kept driving back up to our old county so that my son could finish his baseball season and participate in the playoff games. You see, his team just couldn’t lose. They kept on winning. In several come-from-behind scenarios, the Brewers hung in there and eventually ended up winning the Championship.
We won’t forget it.
However, what we probably won’t forget more than anything is a gentleman named “John” who came and sat through all the games. We called him our lucky charm. At 84 years of age, John drove himself to Kiwanis-Wallas Park, visited the concession stands, and then joined us in the bleachers as we rooted for the Brewers. He became one of us. And an important fact to know is that he was not related to anyone on the team.
It is not often that I am touched beyond words, and I’ve put off writing this post for a particular reason: I don’t think I can do his love of the game justice.
Those of you who are loyal blog readers of mine (thank you!) know that I am a big baseball fan. Not only do my children both play softball and baseball, but I worked in the sport for many years in Baltimore. I’ve been touched by a lot of things over the years, from Cal’s Streak Week, to seeing Joe DiMaggio in person, to being with my colleagues and friends at the Orioles out in the stands in 1997 as we watched our team lose its World Series chances.
But this man John may just become my favorite baseball memory.
Night after night, he came. By himself. He cheered. I listened to him tell stories of his mother (“She spoiled me rotten; I was an only child, you see…”) and of how he would unload the trucks (in Pennsylvania) as a kid, then ride his bike seven miles to the nearest ball field to play for hours with his friends. He lived near Williamsport, PA, ironically the birthplace of Little League Baseball, and described how he played as 12-year-old. “I love watching this age group play,” he said. “I was this age when I started playing ball.” The time was 1939, the year The Wizard of Oz was made.
At the end of the night when the Brewers won and they stormed the field, John stood and clapped and cheered and said, “Yeah, Brewers.” When our team would put men on base, John would yell, “There you go, Brewers! You’ve got ducks on the pond now. Let’s do it, Brewers!”
When he called my son a “scrappy player,” I loved him even more. My son has had to fight hard in this league, as the kids are bigger and stronger and their curve balls more fierce. My son’s adolescent growth spurt has not yet begun.
Nevertheless, I will never, ever forget John. I will never forget how he applauded the kids, and at the parents’ urging, even posed in team pictures at the end of the night with the boys and coaches.
He was our lucky charm, and an enduring memory that my son, daughter, husband and I will not soon forget. And this is what baseball is all about: bringing people together, sharing moments, and reveling in the bliss that all starts with a ball and a bat.
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THE WAY I SEE BASEBALL : WAITING TO HEAR THE CRACK OF THE BAT
Mother Nature has blessed us with an incredible day. It’s sunny and warm, and now it’s official: I yearn to hear the crack of the baseball bat. I’m ready for Orioles baseball and for Opening Day at Camden Yards in Baltimore. It’s still in my blood.
For thirteen years of my life, I bled black and orange. As a front office employee for the Baltimore Orioles many moons ago, I looked forward to the season starting. It was a sign of spring and rebirth. Baseball is America’s pastime.
Some say baseball is slow moving, that it can be equated with watching the grass grow. As for me, I can’t think of a better way to spend a few hours than breathing in the scents of the ballpark, listening to the roar of the crowd, and taking in the scenery that was my home for many years. There’s nothing more exciting than winning the game in the bottom of the ninth inning or witnessing a come-from-behind game-winning homer.
I’m sentimental about Camden Yards, and I have every right to be. I essentially grew up there. That place launched my career, and I’ll always be thankful for that. My best friends and I met and married people we worked with, and we’re all still a tight-knit group. My dear friend, Julie Wagner, was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame, the only female from the front office to be so honored for her community outreach. We were all there as she graciously accepted her place in the lineup that included many Hall of Fame players such as Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Cal Ripken. If it weren’t for her, I would never have experienced working for a major league baseball team because she was the one who hired me in the first place.
My passion may run deeper for Orioles baseball than it would for other people. Other folks may just love to go see their favorite team play. As for me, when I sit in the stands now, not as an employee, but as a regular fan, try as I might, I’ll never be just a regular fan. I’ll always be connected to that place. I can’t help but to be reminded of the love that surrounded me during those years, of the experiences I gained, and the people I met along the way. I’m guessing that a fair amount of black and orange is still in my veins.
I love the game of baseball, and I’ll be there on April 6 as I wait patiently to hear that first crack of the bat.