“Classic Baseball: Timeless Tales, Immortal Moments”
The review in 90 feet or less
Any mom would be proud reading about the historic achievements accomplished by these three baseball people over the last month:
== Kelsie Whitmore did something this past Wednesday no woman has ever done before.
After becoming one of the first women to sign with a professional team affiliated with Major League Baseball last month, and then the first woman to be in the starting lineup for an Atlantic League club on May 1, Whitmore was the first woman to take the mound in an Atlantic League game on May 4, making a relief appearance in the Staten Island FerryHawks‘ 3-1 loss to the Lexington Legends.
The 23-year-old, a member of the United States women’s national baseball team from 2014 to 2019 out of Cal State Fullerton, needed to get her team out of a bases-loaded jam with two outs in the top of the ninth inning at Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George. She inherited the high-leverage situation with the FerryHawks in need of an out to keep the deficit to two runs. Whitmore got Ryan Jackson to fly out to left after getting ahead in the count, 1-2. Even though Staten Island was unable to come back in the bottom of the ninth, Whitmore delivered. (In her next game, she gave up six earned runs in less than an inning and has an ERA at 54.00 at the moment for the 1-11 squad).
== Alyssa Nakken did something on April 12 no woman has ever done before.
The 31-year-old was the first to coach on the field in a Major League Baseball game when the San Francisco Giants needed her during an April 12 home game against San Diego.
She joined the team in its operations department in 2014, working on health and wellness. A year later she earned a masters in sports management from the University of San Francisco and was the chief information officer with the team. In 2000, she was promoted to assistant coach – the first woman to have that title in MLB history. She has been a coach working with baserunners and outfield defense, watching game from an indoor batting cage near the dugout.
It was a notable achievement when she served as the first-base coach for the Giants during an exhibition game against Oakland in July, 2020, as the teams were ramping up for the pandemic-delayed season reboot.
When Giants first-base coach Antoan Richardson was ejected from a game in the top of the third inning against the Padres last month, manager Gabe Kapler summoned Nakken to throw on her off-brand creamsicle-colored No. 92 jersey and step in. Announced as Richardson’s replacement, Nakken received a warm ovation from the crowd at Oracle Park, and a congratulatory handshake from Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer.
“I just introduced myself, congratulated her,” Hosmer said. “It’s obviously a special moment for her, and a special moment for the game. … It’s something she should be really proud of.”
Jeff Dean of NPR wrote: “For years, the MLB has sought to diversify the league’s on-field and operations positions by introducing programs such as its diversity pipeline and a diversity fellowship program. And while it takes time for such programs to bear fruit, the league no doubt sees these as encouraging signs.” And Stephen Kennedy wrote for the SB Nation McCovey Chronicles: “Baseball’s ‘unwritten rules’ need to be tested. Some of them need to be broken. Alyssa Nakken is a rule breaker and baseball is better for it.”
== Rachel Balkovec did something on April 8 no woman has ever done before.
The 34-year old was the first woman to manage a minor league affiliate of an Major League Baseball team. She guided the New York Yankees’ Class A Tampa Tarpons to a win in her first game.
With a masters in kinesiology from LSU and another in human movement sciences from Vrije University in the Netherlands, she became a strength and conditioning coach for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Johnson City, Pa., rookie league affiliate in 2012.
A year later, she was waitressing and working at Lululemon, hoping to advance her coaching career. She changed her name on her resume and her email address from “Rachel” to “Rae,” but once she started doing phone interviews with teams …
Four years later she was in the Houston Astros’ Latin American player development and learned Spanish. In the winter of ’19, the Yankees hired her as a hitting coach – the first woman with a full-time position in that role. The Yankees named her manager of the Tarpons in January, 2022.
In late March at the Yankees’ spring training camp in Tampa, she was hit in the face with a batted ball during workouts, forcing her to miss the Tarpons’ home opener. And sporting a wicked shiner.
The Tarpons’ 6-5 loss to Bradenton on Mother’s Day dropped their record to 13-13. There are T-shirts now in the Tarpon’s team store referring to “Shatting Baseball’s Barriers” and sporting quotes from Balkovec, such as “Grateful for the women who’ve come before me” and “I’m not done yet.”
My mom, a cradle Catholic who struggles with all the dogmas of a religion that can be a frightful challenge to those who go in with blind faith and a hopeful outcome, pointed me into the theological teachings of baseball at a very early age. Her love of the game was cultivated as a young girl watching the achievements of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in South Bend, Indiana. So much of that deep love emerged in linking it to a review of Anika Orrock’s book, “The Incredible Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League” in 2020.
I enjoy honoring her on Mother’s Day Version 2022 — her 60th such celebration — with a copy of this book, hoping that someday names like Kelsie Whitmore, Alyssa Nakken, Rachel Balkovec are as important to women in the future as names like Lou Arnold, Jean Faut and Bea Chester are to my mom and they too will become worthy of classic baseball documentation, essays, analysis and gratitude.
One other reason these three names resonate today is, in the legacy created by 2003 inductee Ila Borders, consider Whitmore, Nakken and Balkovec as future candidates for the Shrine of the Eternals, the Pasadena-based creation of the late Terry Cannon and his Baseball Reliquary. Today, the Reliquary seems to be on pause following Cannon’s passing in August, 2020. The website seems to have come down, hopefully to be updated and revived soon. There hasn’t been a new vote or ceremonies for the Shrine of the Eternals since July 2019. There are 66 members in the Shrine so far.
In the more than two-dozen stories Rosengren includes in his book, one is dedicated to the Baseball Reliquary, which he wrote for Vice Sports in August of 2015, guided there by fellow SABR member John Leonoudakis.
And while there are those who will logically seek out Rosengren’s new collection of baseball-related pieces he has written over the years as a worthy idea for a Father’s Day gift this June – he spend many paragraphs talking about his own father who took him to Minnesota Twins games in the 1970s as well as watching Minneapolis Millers’ minor-league contests – may we also suggest it’s a nice thing for mom to settle in with and go back in time.
Rosengren notes his dad passed away in 2006. He writes about going with him to Cooperstown a year before that, and lessons learned from his old baseball glove.
We have some of those same memories with our still-kicking mom. Her gloves, bats and balls she collected and used to play the game with us are still in the garage, slowly making their way to my garage so they don’t go missing.
“These stories about baseball, they outlive those in them and even those who tell them,” Rosengren writes in the introduction. “I find something beautiful in that.”
We do as well.
How it goes in the scorebook
Here’s to you, mom. And, yes, dad can read it too. But you first. Then share, like you taught us. Check out the chapter on Sandy Koufax’s 1965 Yom Kippur decision, which Rosengren pulls from his 2015 Sports Illustrated story.
And I will be over soon with the corndogs and peanuts to watch the Dodgers-Cubs game from Wrigley Field shortly. As per our tradition.
You can look it up: More to ponder
== Among the best-known books Rosengren has authored:
= “The Fight of their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball’s Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption,” Lyon Press, 2014
The first chapter of “Classic Baseball” is a piece for “108 Magazine” in the summer of ’07 that led to further research and the arrival of “The Fight of their Lives.”
= “Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes,” NAL, 2013
A chapter in “Classic Baseball” is focused on Greenberg from a feature Rosengren did for Michigan History magazine in the fall of 2014.
= “Hammerin’ Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid: The Year that Changed Baseball Forever,” Sourcebooks, 2008. Rosengreen drew from this book to write about Aaron’s 1973 season for the Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Memories & Dreams” magazine in 2020, which is now the second chapter of “Classic Baseball.”
== Rosengren’s interesting piece recently for the Washington Post tries to size up the political aspirations for former Heisman Trophy winner and Georgia icon Herschel Walker. It ends this way: “Details of Walker’s violent past and his outrageous statements already trouble the Republican cognoscenti. Some worry what more could emerge from investigative reporting — or Walker’s own mouth. ‘The unknowns associated with Herschel Walker, with his history and what his statements in the future may be, make him a foolish risk for Republicans,’ says John Watson, former Georgia GOP chair.
“At the moment, though, he may be protected by a cocoon of willful ignorance among his supporters. Several people leaving the Dahlonega event had not heard about the accusations that Walker made violent threats toward ex-wife Cindy and others — incidents recently reported by the media. When told about the incidents, they brushed them off. ‘I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. We learn from our mistakes,’ says Donna Brantley of Dahlonega, carrying an autographed ‘Run Herschel Run’ yard sign. ‘He’s got the right morals’.”