Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Tourists Are Back !

It is as predictable as it is depressing. There is no other way to put it. The tourists are back in south Florida.

A few weeks ago I started seeing an increase in the number of Ontario license plates on the highway (always a sure sign). Then this past week it seemed that most of the license plates were from New Yawk, Joyzee, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana with a few Wisconsinites thrown in for good measure.

Today while out and about I saw my third, fourth and fifth Vermont plate of the fall; no end of New Hampshire plates and a MONTANA for Christ's sake.

They are definitely back. Soon you'll have to wait 3 hours to get a place to sit at a dive like Captain Curt's on Siesta Key or the Beachhouse Restaurant on Anna Maria Island. And that will be before Thanksgiving.

Granted Florida's number one industry is tourism and most every establishment here waits from Easter until Thanksgiving for the "season" to begin. But this is ridiculous having them back so early. I have thought several times this week if the idiot who ran me and my bicycle off the road last Thursday wasn't some blue hair just in from Dayton who was trying to figure out why the highway was going by him as he drove down the street.

And if the influx of tourists wasn't evidence enough, right now at 1:45 a.m. the air temperature is a frigid 74 degrees and its heading down to 71 overnight. That and no humidity (relatively speaking) means that I have all my windows open for the first time since mid-May.

Fall is definitely in the air. I only wish the tourists wouldn't migrate like the songbirds are.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Thrushes Are Coming, The Thrushes Are Coming!

Returning home about 9:30 this evening I heard the characteristic and distinctive call notes of a bunch of Swainson's Thrushes migrating overhead. You can hear that distinctive call note at this link.

Swainson's Thrush has one of the most beautiful song's of any species nesting in North America. Their range includes much of the boreal forest of North America as shown in the map below. They winter primarily along the spine of the Andes in South America.

I suspect that the Swainson's Thrushes moving overhead right now are going to be along the south coast of Cuba by sunrise when they should pitch in for a few days rest. Some might make it to Jamaica or the Cayman Islands. This would be a good time to be in the islands to get that bird for your West Indies list.

This morning while looking out on my lanai I found another thrush, this one the Veery, that was migrating south. Its presence in my yard marked the 116th species I've seen in my backyard since moving here in late February.

As the range map shows, Veery is well distributed in eastern North America where its found abundantly in the nesting season in rich mesic forest as well as some spruce-fir forest. Recent data has shown that the winter range shown in this map is incorrect. More correctly the bird winters almost exclusively in a small area of west-central Brazil rather than widely across the continent as this map suggests.

Also this morning, while nerding around in the Brazilian pepper growing abundantly (and unfortunately) along the edge of my wetland, I found a brilliantly plumaged male Blackburnian Warbler.

Blackburnian Warbler is another species that nests in boreal forest of North America and spends its winter in more hospitable habitats in South America.

While bicycling this afternoon, as I trudged up Tuttle Road just south of venerable Ed Smith Stadium, late the home of the Sarasota Reds, I heard and then saw my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the winter. I was rather surprised to find one this early in the season.

Finally this evening on the beach at Turtle Beach on Siesta Key I was surprised to hear and then see a migrant American Golden-Plover.

I was surprised to find a Golden-Plover on the west coast because most of them are migrating (and this is the peak of their southbound migration period) far out over the Atlantic on a more southerly route from Labrador to Guyana. Regardless it was nice to see this bird I was able to learn about in Arctic Alaska many nesting seasons ago. And then there was the flock of 1200 Golden-Plovers I saw one day on the coast of Guyana in South America in 1991.

The birds I saw today are all to be expected in this part of Florida at this time of year. Hearing the Swainson's Thrushes was an added treat because I wonder if they are now at their peak? Regardless it was enjoyable having them overhead. I only wish at times that I was a Swainston's Thrush and could be in Cuba in the morning.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It Was a Sad Night in Mudville

It was a sad, sad, night in Mudville this evening as not even Mighty Casey could pull off the needed miracle to bring a victory to the noble Port Charlotte Stone Crabs. The final, frustrating, score was Tampa Yankees 5 and the Stone Crabs 2.

The reference to Mudville in the paragraph above was more than metaphorical. As I headed south I could see that the sky was getting increasingly black. I looked at the clouds and saw them moving to the north and in typical male fashion assumed they would keep moving north. These did, but there were others to the south (that I didn't consider) that were also moving north! Arriving at the Charlotte Sports Park we saw even more clouds including a couple that looked like wall clouds, moving in off the ocean and over us.

Unfortunately the clouds decided that once they were over us they would just stay there....and stay there....and stay there! We walked through mud from the parking lot to the stadium. Calling it Mudville tonight was more than appropriate.

The game was scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. which is when we pulled into the parking lot. We were told the game was set back to 7:30 and promptly dashed over to the tiki bar in left-center field where we waited for the storm to pass. Thankfully they had plenty of beer because it was well after 9:00 p.m. when the rain finally let up long enough for the grounds crew to remove the tarps and prepare the field for play.

The first pitch was thrown about 9:45 p.m. and it was a strike against the Yankee lead off batter. If only it had stayed that positive all night.

Despite their best intentions and some damned long fly balls to the outfield that were invariably caught, the Stone Crabs just couldn't get their groove tonight.

The Yankees struck first blood in the fourth inning with a single run followed by 3 more in the 5th inning. The Crabs got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth and scored another run in the 8th but it was just not enough to overcome the Yankees early lead.

The umpiring tonight, just like Monday night, was despicable. Granted these are minor league teams and that means they get minor league umpires. However when a ball crosses the center of the plate at belt level and is called a ball, you know something is really rotten in Denmark and its not the cheese. More than once someone yelled at the umpire and asked how much Steinbrenner was paying him to throw the game. The calls were so egregious I would not be surprised if the umpire was bought off.

The game ended mercifully with the Stone Crabs grounding into a double play. Once it registered the Yankees were all over themselves hopping on backs and grabbing butts and demonstrating other latent homosexual behaviors. They were certainly elated to have won but for the Yankees and any team in their organization it was just a ho-hum - "we bought another trophy" night for them.

This is the end of the 2009 season for the Florida State League. It was a great summer. In all I watched more than 70 baseball games in all 11 stadiums used by the 12 Florida State League teams. I saw some great baseball this summer and also witnessed some potential future major league players. Chris Cates from the Fort Myers Miracle is one such player as are both Greg Sexton and Henry Wrigley from the Stone Crabs. I wish them well and hope that in the 2010 season I see them in a higher league or maybe even in the show.

Good luck to all the Stone Crabs and all the other teams (but the Tampa Yankees) in the Florida State League. You all made me feel like a 17 year old again this year....and thank you for that.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Florida State League Championhip Series

This evening my friend Anne and her daughter Emily, attended the fourth game of the 5 game series against the Tampa Yankees for the Florida State League championship. As the final score indicated the Crabs kicked ass and took names and won the game by 3-1.

This was a fantabulous game because the Stone Crabs picthched a perfect game through the first out of the SEVENTH inning. Yes you read it right the Crabs had these smary bastards by the pubic hairs through six full innings and part of the next inning.

The best part of the night was Greg Sexton hitting a three-run homer in the bottom of the 6th inning giving the Crabs everything they needed. In desperation the Yankees scored one run in the top of the 9th inning. Too little too late and there is no way its more deserving than for the Tampa Yankees.

One nice thing was that the umpire behind the plate seemed to actually care about the quality of his calling - totally different from last night's game.

Regardless, the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs will be playing the hapless New York Yankees for he championship of the Florida State League, and they will be doing it on Wednesday night.

Regardless, the Crabs (in their first year of existence) will be playing the Yankees on Crabs home turf. If nothing else it will be one hell of a battle. Wish you could be there to see it!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sarasota Reds Win Their Final Game - Ever!!

This evening, in what might go down in history as the greatest game ever played by the Sarasota Reds, my team kicked the ass of the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs by the convincing score of 4-0.

It was a great game from the moment the Reds took the field for their last game ever. Before the game started, my friend Anne, the inspiration for the character "Anne Hinga" in my forthcoming novel "Minor League Heckler" and I strode down to the Reds dugout and hawked a couple of autographs from these future major leaguers. First to be asked was Nefthali Soto a great kid from Areciebo Puerto Rico. "Tali" was the kid the other night who hit the foul ball that I caught in my beer glass. I had to have him sign that ball.

Anne and I then got autographs from Jason Louwsma the tall, lanky, first baseman for the Reds and a native of Winter Park, Florida. Last Thursday night it was Jason who almost pulled off the Mighty-Casey-Like final hit in the final at bat of the Reds in their home game. Had Jason connected we would have been tied and maybe won the final game the Reds played in Ed Smith stadium. It didn't happen that way and by not happening its actually a better story to tell.

We also snagged autographs on the baseball emblazoned with the Sarasota Reds emblem from Justin Reed, a really nice kid from Jackson, Mississippi. Justin was one of the best players we had this year and could almost always be counted on to come through with a hit - even a base hit - whenever we needed one.

Dennis Phipps, a center fielder from San Pedro de Marcoris, Dominican Republic, and the inspiration for one of the other characters in Minor League Heckler stopped by and signed the baseball for us. We were each holding a large glass of Cerveza Presidente the national beer of his home country, when we talked to Dennis. I told him what we were drinking and he smiled a huge smile. I also told him that I have watched games in San Pedro and wondered if I had ever seen him play before this summer.

Next we got the attention of my Reds hero Dave Sappelt, our center fielder and the best hitter we had this summer. Dave became my hero back in early July when he nailed a first ball, fast ball off the Clearwater Thresher Sharks pitcher and planted the ball through the roof of the tiki bar in left field at Clearwater's Brighthouse stadium.

Those were the only players I wanted to hit up but as we waited for the others to make themselves available, I saw Reds manager Joe Ayrault standing in the dugout and I started a conversation with him. It was one of those conversations that, as a writer, you know is dripping with potential to use in your next tome. And this conversation with Joe will wind up in one. Trust me.

First I thanked Joe for going head to toe with the obviously-blind umpire last Sunday who called a Stone Crab safe at home when he was OUT....no doubt about it....this kid was out. But the ump called him safe and when he did Joe came out of the dugout like he was caught on fire. God DAMN was he upset!! Joe's first mistake was calling the umpire "a blind motherfucker". That's usually not the wisest way to get an umpire's attention. Joe was promptly ejected from the game for that truthful statement. However he wasn't done with the umpire. The slinging of invective reached a fevered pitch and Joe finally kicked dirt in the face of the umpire. It doesn't get much more intense than that! Of course we all stood up and gave Joe a standing ovation for this noble gesture.

When I introduced myself to Joe he immediately asked me, "so who are you, anyway?"

I asked what he meant and Joe said, "It didn't matter where we were playing or who we were playing you always sat in the same seat behind home plate. You started attacking whomever we played from before the first pitch was thrown and you didn't let up until the last out. You are relentless. I asked my team if you were a father of one of the kids on the team and nobody knew you. Who are you?"

So I told him. I said I was a retired wildlife biologist who moved to Sarasota and discovered the Reds. I said "when I watched you guys play you took me back to the days in high school when I was a baseball player. Watching you made me feel like a kid again, and I knew that I had to do something to help you win, even if you couldn't."

Joe asked, "so did you make it to the minors or just play in college?"

I told him I never made it beyond high school but that doesn't mean baseball wasn't important to me.

Joe then said, "So what position did you play?"

I said, "I was a catcher from ninth grade on."

Joe chuckled and said "That explains everything!"

When the kids came up and gave me their autographs, I said to each one of them that I needed them to make it to the show for me. I was never good enough but they are and it was through them that I will some day play at least one game in the show. Maybe it will be Dennis Phipps, or Nefthali Soto, or Jason Louwsma, or Dave Sappelt or Justin Reed. But it will be one of them and when they enter the hallowed grounds of a professional baseball stadium I will hope that some how some day back in 2009 I did something with my heckling to help them get where they are.

Our seats were in section 106 at an angle from home plate. Anne decided early that we needed to move down directly behind home plate and by the end of the second inning - after our second successful assault on the tiki bar in left field (and its Cerveza Presidente on tap) we settled in to new seasts that were, of course, directly behind home plate.

I had promised Anne that I would not embarrass her with any of my heckling and for the most part I was able to keep that promise. The only Stone Crabs player whom I heckled consistently was Henry Wrigley, their first baseman. Henry is the Crabs player who yelled "fuck you, asshole" at me last weekend in Sarasota when I relentlessly heckled him every time I saw him. Henry is a damned good player and one I hope makes it to show some day. However through tonight he was the enemy and it was my job to distract him. He went 0-4 and I want to think I helped him attain that lousy at bat record. The funny thing is that Anne and I will be at the Stone Crabs -v- Fort Myers Miracle game on Tuesday night. It will be the first game in the south division playoffs and I will be wearing my Charlotte Stone Crabs baseball cap and I will be screaming for Henry Wrigley and his friends to win. I hope Henry understands the change in outlook when I'm cheering on his side.

After nine great freaking innings my Sarasota Reds pulled off the near impossible - they won!!! They kicked ass, took names, and didn't stop smiling. It was ultimately a story book finish.

Tonight's game was the 50th game of theirs I saw this summer. Yes, that's right, fifty. And I long ago decided that I wanted them to end the season with 40 losses with me in the audience. I really didn't want them to be that bad, I just thought if I hoped they would lose they would win - some sort of an anti-karma thing I guess. Because of their win tonight, the Reds' record with me watching was 11 wins and 39 losses.

I had tears streaming down my cheeks tonight when the Reds got the last out against the Crabs. It was over and they won. And that is what I really wanted them to do all summer long. And tonight they did.

Good luck all you Sarasota Reds. I want you to keep kicking ass and taking names and one day I want to see each and every one of you in the show. Throughout this summer of all your losses you earned the right to make it to the show. And I want you to do that....for you and for me. Deal?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Reds Lose Again Last Night - Closing In On My Goal

The hapless Sarasota Reds, holders of the worst record in the Florida State League and one of the worst records in all of Minor League Baseball, were defeated last night by the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs. The final score was 1-0.

Although it was a close scoring game, that happened purely by coincidence. At least twice the Reds found themselves with the Crabs having loaded the bases and there being only 1 or more likely 0 outs. Somehow they worked their way out of these messes and kept the score out of the embarrassing department. I'm not sure how it happened but they pulled it off.

The game was played in beautiful, clean, wonderful, comfortable Charlotte Sports Park.

This stadium is without doubt one of the three best in the Florida State League. Of course I might be a tad biased because it has 1) a tiki bar in left-center field and 2) the tiki bar has Cerveza President on draught!! I've never seen Presidente on draught even in the Dominican Republic where its brewed! Talk about a major coup.

Stone Crabs fans are among the best in the Florida State League. They certainly love their team and they show it vociferously. Last night's paid attendance was 3,586 people. Can you freaking believe that?? Tonight's game (Saturday night) was sold out already last night. I was lucky to get two tickets for Sunday afternoon's game.

My brother-in-law and I sat together in Section 108, just 8 rows back from the edge of the field. These seats were as close as we could get - everything forward was sold out including a bunch of season ticket holders. What a concept - something else the Sarasota Reds forgot to learn.

The Sunday game will be the last game ever played by the Sarasota Reds. I will be there with my Sarasota Reds cap on seated next to Anne, the person who is the inspiration for "Anne Hinga" in my book "Minor League Heckler." We will be seated almost on top of the Stone Crabs dugout which will prove interesting for me....especially when Henry Wrigley (#39) comes out to the on-deck circle. However I have promised Anne that I won't heckle (much) so Henry will get off light.

The irony of my heckling the Crabs is that next Tuesday night September 8, the Crabs will be playing the Fort Myers Miracle in Port Charlotte. This will be the first of a potentially three-game playoff series to see who wins the Florida State League South Division championship. I got two tickets for Tuesday night's game against the Miracle. And for that game I"ll be in the stands (we have seats in the first row next to the Crabs dugout), I will be wearing my Stone Crabs baseball cap and I will be cheering FOR Henry Wrigley and the rest of the Crabs.

Right now the Sarasota Reds have a record of 10 wins and 39 losses with me in the stands cheering them on. Some time ago I wondered if they could get to 40 losses with me there. Tomorrow night will be the test to see if we can reach that goal. But its a bittersweet goal. I'd certainly like to see them win just because its their last game ever. At the same time I am expecting them to lose because that is what the Reds do best. Either way, win or lose, there is a Cerveza Presidente tap in the tiki bar in left-center field. So all is well no matter what.

Still it will be a melancholy time Sunday afternoon watching the Reds in their last game ever. I'm just not sure what I'm going to do once they are gone.

White Ibis - Florida's Lawn Chicken

Anyone who has spent any time driving around Sarasota or Manatee counties has probably seen small groups of white birds with black wing tips hanging out in people's yards, on golf courses, and in water-filled roadside ditches.

These birds are White Ibis, members of a family of birds that look like herons and act like herons, but have strongly decurved bills that mean for certain they are not herons.

I saw my first White Ibis exactly 31 years ago today, September 4, 1978, at the Orton Plantation near Wilmington, North Carolina. My ex wife and I had flown out to Norfolk to go on our first pelagic birding trip out of Hatteras. A hurricane blew out the birding trip but Bob Ake, ever determined to follow through on a commitment, drove us from the Outer Banks to Moorehead City where we went on a fishing boat filled with drunk fishermen and looked for seabirds there. One of my non-pelagic species on my "target list" for the trip was White Ibis and Bob knew that a roost near Orton Plantation would produce for us. And it did.

Like several of the passerine species, I have also noticed an increase in the number of White Ibis near here. This has been especially true in the last couple of weeks so I'm wondering if some White Ibis are also beginning to move south to more desirable temperatures for the winter?

Some people refer to White Ibis as "lawn chicken" because of their affinity for freshly-mowed lawns that they like to scour for insects and other organisms stirred up by the whirling blades of a lawn mower. For whatever reason, and by whatever name they are called, White Ibis is one of the more enjoyable birds to be able to observe and learn about along Florida's sun-baked west coast.

White-eyed Vireo Still Singing in September

White-eyed Vireo is a small and inconspicuous bird that nests throughout the southeastern United States and winters here, in Mexico and Central America as well as in the West Indies.

Like most other nesting passerines, White-eyed Vireos become conspicuous by their song in late March and sing persistently through early summer, generally ending their nesting activities in late June. Once they end nesting logic would indicate that they would stop singing.

Not so according to one White-eyed Vireo I heard singing along 17th Avenue near Beneva yesterday, September 4. Although the bird is quite inconspicuous and quite the skulker, their voice is almost impossible to miss. Danny Bystrak once verbalized their voice as sounding like they were saying "chick, pizza-wheel, chick" and if you have an imaginative mind you can hear them say that especially as song clip # 3 here.

This will prove to be another species that will be interesting to keep track of as fall turns into winter. I've never heard a White-eyed Vireo singing this late anywhere else in their range.

Persistently Persistent Parula's

Back in June I posted a little note about my surprise in hearing Northern Parula's still singing despite it being hot as hades and well past what I thought was the end of the nesting season.

At the time I wondered how persistent they would be through the summer heat. Certainly if they had been heard in northern Wisconsin I would have expected the Parula's to be done singing in July. However here in the subtropical habitats of west Florida, 1500 miles from northern Wisconsin, Parula's continued to sing throughout July and into August.

I last recorded a singing male on my bicycle route on August 5. After that I just presumed they were done singing for the year. However yesterday, September 4, I heard a male burst into robust singing as I darted past a patch of scrub vegetation on University Parkway.

Now I'm baffled and I'm starting to wonder if maybe they sing all year long at this lower latitude.

The Migrants Are Coming - And I Dont Mean Tourists

There has been an obvious increase in the number of tourists already returning to coastal Florida. In the last week I've seen more Ohio and Michigan license plates than since they went back north in April. Most telling was the four (count them, four!) Ontario license plates seen just yesterday while on my bicycle ride. These are all definite signs that organisms are leaving the more northerly climes and headed for the warmth and tranquility of subtropical Florida.

Despite the apparent ingress of less-than-desirable humans, there has also been an increase this week in the number of bird species making their way south.

Bird migration is an almost 12-month a year process but most of us think only of spring migration when birds return from littler latitudes decked out in the breeding plumage and singing to attract a mate. Most think of April and May as the peak of spring migration although "fall" migration can begin as early as June when some male shorebirds first arrive from the Arctic.

Warblers (my most favorite group of birds) generally begin their southward movements in late July (Louisiana Waterthrush immediately comes to mind) and they are joined by other species throughout August. Some species like Canada Warbler pass through Florida on their way to South America. Others get here and stay until next spring.

Palm Warbler is one of those species.

Yesterday while on my bike ride I heard and then saw my first Palm Warblers of the winter. There were two birds, apparently post-breeding males, calling vigorously from a large tree in the parking lot of the British Pub on University Parkway. I pass through here daily and would have heard Palm Warblers earlier had they been here. Yesterday's sighting says that our "winter" birds are here and will be around until next April or so.

Palm Warblers nest in bogs and similar wet forest habitats in and near the boreal forest of the northern United States and Canada. Although rare in Wisconsin in summer there are a few places where this species can be found in the Badger State during summer. I remember well my first trip to Maine when I flew to Bangor in June 1984 to capture some Palm Warblers for an experiment we were doing on fitting a radio transmitter on the back of a bird like Kirtland's Warbler that wags its tail constantly. With the help of the Maine Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit myself and some graduate students caught 12 Palm Warblers in a bog near Bangor and I transported them back to Laurel Maryland for the research effort. Almost predictably good old Delta Airlines lost the birds in the baggage of a 727 I rode back to Baltimore. A day later the birds were found and amazingly they were all still alive.

Despite them being a species of rich, wet, boreal bogs in the summer, Palm Warblers spend their winter in many habitats - including palms in Florida. In the West Indies they are most abundant in xeric scrub habitats - the antithesis of their summer nesting habitat.

You can learn more about the ecology of Palm Warblers here and here.

Now that Palm Warblers are back on the west coast of Florida its safe to say, at least ornithologically, that fall is here and that means winter with its frigid 60 degree temperatures can't be far behind. There's hardly a cloud in the sky today and the temperature is currently in the pleasant mid-70s. It seems like a perfect day to find some coastal scrub habitat and go look for migrants. And I think that is exactly what I'm going to do.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Another Night, Another Caught Foul Ball, and the Final Reds Loss at Home

Just like in the immortal poem about the Mudville Nine in which Mighty Casey struck out, so too did the Sarasota Reds this evening in their final home game ever. The final score was Palm Beach Cardinals 3 and the Sarasota Reds 2.

It was a hard fought game but almost as expected the Reds snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and just could not turn it around. Actually the Reds didn't really snatch defeat from the jaws of anything. They were down 2-0 going into the bottom of the sixth inning when they scored 2 runs. It went like this:

•Justin Reed grounds out, second baseman Oliver Marmol to first baseman Osvaldo Morales.
•Alex Buchholz singles on a line drive to right fielder Charles Cutler.
•Dave Sappelt singles on a line drive to center fielder Thomas Pham. Alex Buchholz to 3rd.
•With Neftali Soto batting, Dave Sappelt steals (20) 2nd base.
•Neftali Soto singles on a line drive to center fielder Thomas Pham. Alex Buchholz scores. Dave Sappelt scores.
•Denis Phipps grounds out, third baseman Matt Carpenter to first baseman Osvaldo Morales. Neftali Soto to 2nd.
•Kyle Day flies out to left fielder Curt Smith.
As to be expected Right Fielder Dennis Phipps could be counted on for an out, as he has been all season long! If he is ever to make it to the show he needs to learn to 1) CHARGE the freaking ball when its hit to him, 2)watch pitches and not swing at any slop that is sent his way, and 3) not be a prima donna on the base paths. But enough about Dennis.

What can be said? It was a good game and it was a fast game and there were 2,448 chanting fans in the audience. Where have they been all season? Many times I was at a Reds game with 150 other people in the stands. And of course I was the only one heckling. However tonight I was joined in that endeavor by someone who was not only louder than me but also more obnoxious!! I talked to him between innings. He was a kid from Bradenton who used to be a left fielder. He knew exactly what to say, how to say it and when. He was massively effective. Several times I heard the couple between me and him say "They are doing a duet on the batter."

Unfortunately we didn't duet enough.

There were some other highlights to tonight's game that occurred off the field.

First, I staked out the concessions stand early for my last beer and bratwurst of the year. The woman behind the counter said "You've been so consistent all season long. Its always a large beer and a bratwurst. Since its our last night this Bud's on me" (honest she said it). She also bought my bratwurst.

I then migrated over to the clothing area and found that all t shirts were gone. However they had one replica of the Sarasota mascot - the Rally Gator - and I bought it as a gift for a baseball friend of mine. This picture is of the real "live" Rally Gator - the doll is much smaller (duh!)

I also purchased one more baseball with the Sarasota Reds emblem emblazoned on it. This one is for my long time friend and buddy Jon Andrew who was sitting in his mom's house in suburban Boston tonight watching the Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6 - 3 while I endured this final at-home Reds loss. What was it with my two favorite teams tonight?

In the fourth inning, Reds infielder Nefthali Soto hit a foul ball that cleared the backstop and hit the press box area. Just like two weeks ago I watched its trajectory and it looked good for coming close to me. I leaped up, with my beer glass in my hand and caught the damned foul ball in a plastic beer glass! I may be nearly 58 years old but I still know how to catch a foul ball! And I didn't spill much of the beer either. Priorities, priorities.

Throughout the season I have signed up for the Click-It or Ticket promotion sponsored by the Florida Highway Patrol. Each game in the 8th inning they pull one name from the hopper and award that person a Click It or Ticket t shirt. Tonight they did the promotion but gave the winner a Sarasota Reds t shirt instead of a FHP shirt. This was the 46th home game of the Sarasota Reds that I watched this year. For each game I signed up for the promotion. For 45 games I didn't win the promotion. Tonight for the last home game of their existence I won the freaking t shirt! I'll give it to my friend Anne Hinga. She'll look a lot hotter in it than I would. Its a large so she'll swim in it....but still.

After my name was called and I went up to claim her t shirt the guy at the Sarasota Herald Tribune information desk asked me for my identification...then stopped...laughed...and said "anyone who can catch a foul ball in a beer glass deserves this t shirt"! He also gave me the last copy in existence of the official 2009 Sarasota Reds yearbook. A fitting final gift I would say.

With the score Palm Beach 3 and Sarasota 2 we went into the bottom of the ninth inning. Just like in the immortal poem "Casey At the Bat".... The Reds had 2 outs when Kyle Day walked giving a hint of some life. The tying run was now on first and the winning run at the plate. Jason Louwsma, a 26 year old kid from Winter Park Florida came to the plate. Jason was the Reds last great hope to be Mighty Casey. All eyes were on Jason who, with the count 3 balls and 2 strikes clobbers the ball. It left the bat with that loud juicy "thwack" you hear when the ball is headed for the stratosphere.

It looked like that to us. The center fielder was running back, back, back. Kyle Day has rounded third and was almost to cross home plate when the gravity took over. The ball sunk in altitude. The center fielders mitt opened up and back on the warning track in deep center field - almost out of the damned park for a 2 run game winning home run, the miserable center fielder ruined this story book ending and caught the ball for the third and final out.

Mighty Casey didn't strike out tonight. He sent a hell of a wallop to deep center field, but just like in that 120 year old immortal poem, it was the last out. The lights went off and every one went home. And just like for Mighty Casey there is no joy in my Mudville tonight.

I have wondered recently about why I was consumed by the Sarasota Reds. Someone will likely say, "what, Craig consumed by something he believes in - that can't be" and everyone will laugh. But I spent a lot of time thinking about this while doing my 16 mile bicycle ride every day. What I finally concluded is that the Reds represented me when I was a kid playing baseball in high school. I sat behind home plate for every game and was able to feel like I was a catcher again. I heckled opposing players just like I did when I was a mouthy high school senior who once caused an opposing player to hit me in the face with a baseball bat to get me to stop heckling him. He had simply had his fill of me and took matters into his own hands or baseball bat as it were. It didn't work and I immediately began heckling the next batter from his team.

All summer long sitting behind home plate I felt like I was that 17 year old kid again. I wasn't approaching my "golden years" that are just 2 years off. I was a kid on a mission to help make his team the best it could possibly be. Its funny how my career with the US Fish and Wildlife Service ultimately soured me and made me bitter about many things. But baseball was always the antithesis of that. Baseball was where I was fairly good. Baseball was where I could always make a difference. Baseball was where I was encouraged to take charge and direct the play on the field and I didn't have to ask any supervisor's permission to do it.

I could do that again this summer and it really felt good.

So long Sarasota Reds - may you rest in peace. You were worth every ounce and every penny of my effort this year to cheer you on. After all it was the Sarasota Reds who were the inspiration for me to write my current book "Minor League Heckler." After tonight's game I decided that the book, when finished, would be dedicated to the 2009 Reds team. A fitting end to the team. At least in my book you will have a winning season.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles Continue Their Precipitous Decline

WASHINGTON – It's a scene that scientists say is all too common: A commercial fishing boat pulls in a net full of shrimp or tuna and finds a loggerhead sea turtle mixed in with the catch.

Biologists like Matthew Godfrey say one or two such takings can happen every day among fishing fleets off the Southeast coast. Those numbers can add up to thousands annually for a turtle species that has traveled the oceans for 200 million years but now faces a growing array of threats.

Godfrey is among the authors of the latest federal report on loggerheads that says most groups of the ancient reptile are at risk of extinction — in large part due to increased commercial fishing.
This is not a good news story on which to start your day!

Although I have not seen the report, the fact that state resource agencies, including highly political Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, contributed authors to it, attests to the seriousness of the issue. I know that a year ago there was great concern expressed for Loggerhead Sea Turtles along Florida's west coast because no matter what was being tried the number of nests just kept declining. Now we have these results that can be used to guide future management of the species.

Dividing the Loggerhead population into nine populations makes a lot of sense biologically. Its akin to what was done with some of the salmon on the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada. It creates confusion for the public because activities are restricted in one place and allowed in others (for instance).

However when you are dealing with a creature that has been around for 200 million years the last thing that should be guiding decisions is how a few humans are affected or displaced.

Just look out the window along any part of the coast here in Florida and its quickly obvious to most who won the war - and it wasn't the sea turtles.

A Sad, Sad Day at Ed Smith Stadium

It was a sad, sad evening this evening at venerable Ed Smith Stadium off Tuttle Avenue in Sarasota.

It was sad not because the Sarasota Reds lost (as expected!) brutally to the Palm Beach Cardinals by the demoralizing score of 7-0. It was more because we all knew that in 24 hours the Minor League Single A team formerly known as the Sarasota Reds will be no more.

That's right. After the final out in tomorrow night's game (September 3) between the Reds and the Palm Beach Cardinals the Reds will never step foot again in Ed Smith Stadium. Because of the Baltimore Orioles coming to town next spring for spring training, the Reds (a farm team of the Cincinnati Reds) will be a team without a home. Rumor has it that they will be moving to Bradenton and become the Bradenton Pirates. Regardless because the Orioles already have a Class A farm team somewhere in Maryland they have no need for one in Florida. Tomorrow night the Sarasota Reds will be put to rest.

Tonight's game, although typically frustrating, left me feeling melancholy. All summer long I have cheered on the hapless Reds. All summer long I have made up excuses for how freaking bad they are. All summer long I have tried to find a way to help them win. I've had fingers flashed at me by opposing players. I've heard an opposing player yell "fuck you, asshole" in response to my heckling. I once almost had the entire St. Lucie Mets team come off the bench and into the stands to shut up my heckling. Their manager wanted to lead the entourage to shut me up! But I stood with them. I cheered them on and yelled at umpires who made rotten calls and yelled at our catcher for screwing up.

Tonight by the seventh inning I lost the desire to heckle the Palm Beach Cardinals. Tonight I wanted to just soak in the feeling of being in that ball park and knowing that in 24 hours they will be gone. My friend Mark who sold me tickets all summer long stopped by to talk with us. He talked about how melancholy he felt taking things down from the walls of the ticket booth and preparing things to send back to Cincinnati.

The Reds have baseball caps and t shirts and baseballs and other things on sale at 50 percent off now. Tonight I bought a baseball with the Sarasota Reds emblem emblazoned on the cover. I bought another baseball for my baseball friend Anne (she's Anne Hinga in my book Minor League Heckler). Tomorrow I'll probably buy some more stuff of theirs just to say that I did.

For me, after tonight's loss, the Reds record is 10 wins and 37 losses with me in the stands. I'll have to spend some time in Port Charlotte later this week watching the Reds lose if they are going to get to 40 losses with me cheering them on.

But it will be a bittersweet couple of games because I know when I get home to Sarasota the Reds won't be there any more. And that hurts.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fall Comes to Florida's West Coast

Well, its not quite this bad. There is no snow on the palm trees - yet. However during my bike ride today the high temperature was only 87 degrees after getting down to 74 last night. A year ago, long time Florida gulf coast resident Tonya Goodthighs told me that when the overnight temperature goes below the summer constant of 79 degrees, then "fall" has begun to fall.

Tonight the low is going to an even more frigid 73 degrees. I may have to invest in some long pants if this nonsense continues.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sarasota Reds Win Two in a Row!

Stranger things have happened, I guess, but in the world of Sarasota Reds baseball not much is more strange than them winning two games in a row. Yes you read that correctly.

This evening my hapless Sarasota Reds beat the Palm Beach Cardinals 1-0. It was a great game! This comes on the heels of a 6-2 win over the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs on Sunday afternoon.

Of course the back to back wins need to be put in perspective before anyone dares to think the Reds are on a streak or something.

When the Reds began Sunday's game with a 4 run first inning (I almost hyperventilated despite the temperature feeling like it was 900 degrees at game time) those runs ended another streak - the Reds had gone 27 consecutive innings without scoring one single run. Now my reticence makes more sense perhaps?

Sunday's game against the Stone Crabs was a lot of fun. Before the game started I chatted with the Crabs' manager about their upcoming playoff bid. The Fort Myers Miracle are at the top of the South Division of the Florida State League and a shoe-in for a playoff spot. The Crabs are close by in second place but not far enough from their closest competitor to clinch a playoff spot. As we talked I told the Crabs manager that I'd be in Port Charlotte to cheer on his team but added "even though I'll cheer for you there, today I will heckle you mercilessly." He smiled and said "that's what the game is all about."

Sunday's designated recipient of heckling was #39 Henry Wrigley. For whatever reason I was on Henry like white on rice each time he came to bat. Finally in the top of the 8th inning when Henry was in the on-deck circle I made a comment about him reporting to the Rookie League after the game. Fed up with a three games worth of invective from me (he got an ear full the night before during a double-header) Henry looked at me and yelled "Fuck you, asshole." I laughed as he took the batters box and then poured it on more helping him to strike out.

The other designated recipient on Sunday afternoon was Omar Luna, the Crabs' second baseman. Being from the Dominican Republic I probably should have not been too rough on him however during one of the Saturday night games Omar swung at a pitch, lost control of his bat - lost control hell- he lost the bat!- and it went sailing into the stands behind the third base dugout and hit a kid in the head. Sunday, each time he came to bat, I yelled at Omar and asked if he was going to hit another kid this afternoon. Omar didn't have such a good day at the plate.

I arrived late for this evening's game against the Cardinals. I had a wardrobe malfunction as it were and needed to dash over to my sister's house to get the zipper on the pocket in which sat my wallet and my money unzipped. This made me arrive at the top of the second inning. Luckily the Reds were tied.

Tonight's designated recipients were Blake Murphy the catcher and Jose Garcia the shortstop, a kid from Caracas Venezuela. I chose Blake because he was consistently throwing balls to second base that seemed to defy gravity and regularly wound up in center field. Jose was chosen because of a throw in the second inning that went over the first baseman and into the stands. Clearly these were two mistakes that called for rigorous heckling. Unfortunately there were no four-letter words thrown my way by any of the Cardinals, but this was just the first game of a three-game series. I have plenty of time tomorrow and Thursday to aggravate them.

Tonight's win puts the Reds record at 10 wins and 36 losses with me in the stands. There being only two more games to be played in Ed Smith Stadium there is no way I can encourage them to my goal of 40 losses with me in the stands by the time this home stand is done. This means that I'll have to travel down to Port Charlotte for at least two games in enemy territory later this week. Could be interesting!

One nice thing about tonight's game is that as I watched it I got some more ideas for how my book "Minor League Heckler" will move forward. First, the Heckler will pursue Anne Hinga his real love interest while 2) Tonya Goodthighs continues to pursue the heckler. Eventually there will be a huge cat fight between these two. Haven't figured out how it ends yet. Also, the two other lines of the story will be 3) the Heckler's pursuit of the Santa Lucia Metros and 4) how Cubans in Miami have been buying off umpires making them throw all these games that the Reds have been losing. Not sure where that one is going either but it should be fun!