Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"In Choosing To Believe, the Unbelievable Truth" -A tribute, and reflection on a life

It is really hard for me to know where to begin this tribute. Mark Heard died 25 years ago today, August 16th, 1992. He had suffered two heart attacks within two weeks of each other that summer, the second of which left him in a coma that eventually ended his life. I discovered Mark Heard just under 10 years later, over 15 years ago, when I picked up the book “CCM’s 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music History” at my local library and began thumbing through it.


As I was nearing the end of my freshman  year of high school, I was in a definite dry spell within my faith. It was spring of 2002 and I began to realize that I was seeing a strange dichotomy between the real life we all live, with it’s trials, challenges, heartache and sadness, and the “Christianity” I was seeing being taught within the American Church of “accept Jesus as your savior, pray a prayer and be saved.” That seemed to be all that was being taught in one form or another in both the main church services and the youth group I was attending each week. Looking back now, we know this was the tail end of the what is now known as the ‘Seeker” movement in the Church, and an it is an era not looked back on fondly today.


As people my age are now leaving the Church in seemingly endless droves, we can look back at that time as being perhaps a contributing cause…..but I digress….


Anyways….


With all that swirling inside my head, I looked to my favorite medium, music, for consultation. Sadly the music I was hearing on Christian radio and saw being sold in Christian bookstores was, well, also lacking in an acknowledgement of the harder parts of life. I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me, that I was somehow feeling things that everyone else was immune to, or if nothing else, didn’t understand well enough to talk about.


Enter Mark Heard’s “Satellite Sky” album into my life, which I managed to borrow a cassette tape copy from a library in Illinois! (This was back when my local library had this cool option called “Interlibrary Loan” where they could get items from anywhere in America at no cost to you as the patron. Pretty awesome!)


I converted this long out of print cassette to mp3 files on my computer and pretty much listened to it non stop during the summer of 2002! Here was a man who wrote about the challenge of life and the “friction born of living” in a fallen world better than anyone I had ever heard, and to this point in life, never have heard again.


“Satellite Sky” was an album for a person who felt deep things, and longed to understand how those feelings should be channeled. Heard took on the struggles of realizing the world doesn’t understand that the presupposition of “in the beginning, God” packs such a powerful and meaningful message for our lives in his song “Orphans of God”


In “Long Way Down” he laments the fact that we have reached the point in America where the once glorious “purple mountain majesties” now have ‘ratings that are poor’ due to the depravity that has caused society to fall in darkness.


America, in Heard’s mind was slowly becoming a “Freight Train To Nowhere,” a place where ‘the wages of spend is debt.’


No one else had dared to speak these things, especially in the Church.


But there was also a deep understanding of the Good News of the Gospel, though with Heard it needn’t be spelled out directly.


In “Love Is So Blind” he champions a woman who ‘spends her evenings singing songs to infidels and thieves’ and ‘sees unselfishly’ at all times. A reminder to all of us that there are truly selfless people in the world.


In “Treasure Of The Broken Land” he wrote an ode to his father, who had died in December of 1991. In it he exudes the hope of every Christian who knows he will one day see a loved one who also knew Christ again in Heaven.


“Hammers & Nails” speaks of the love of Jesus that can ‘pierce me’ on a never failing basis.


Hopeless situations were expressed right alongside the ultimate Hope of the Gospel.


Needless to say from hearing this album I did all I could to track down everything Mark Heard have ever put out. This included happening on some cassette tape copies of albums in the discount bin of Christian Bookstore Outlets in Tennessee while on a family vacation, and admittedly a use of file sharing software on the computer, though I would eventually purchase all of his albums in one format or another.


I also read everything I could read on this man. I found books written about the history of Christian rock and Yahoo Groups, the start of social media back then, that exclusively had members who liked and appreciated Heard’s work.


Then the following summer a Mark Heard biography came out, alongside a CD of previously unreleased material!!!! That spring it was the only item on my birthday wish list. My parents were kind enough to pre-order if for me :-)


The CD was great! It featured unreleased material of Heard’s written and demoed during his three year album hiatus between 1987-1990.


The book was equally thrilling, as author Matthew Dickerson spoke with almost any artists he could find who had known and worked with Mark Heard during his lifetime, and painted a picture of a deeply feeling man, who loved deeply and sought to make the best art he possibly could to honor Jesus.


Mark Heard was heavily influenced by Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer, who’s L’Abri retreat center Heard visited multiple times in Switzerland. Schaeffer loved art, and taught that the Christian should strive to make the very best art possible, because it was a way of worshiping the God who had given the artistic talent. This was a philosophy that Mark Heard not only strove to implement in his own body of work, but challenged his friends to emulate as well.


Christian music veteran Randy Stonehill tells the story of the time he played an album’s worth of songs for Heard, only to be told by Heard that the songs weren’t good enough, and that Stonehill needed to strive for further levels of excellence in his songwriting. While shaken and a tad annoyed at the time, Stonehill recounts that he now looks back on that as one of the best things Heard could have said to him.


Heard’s belief that the Christian should create the best art to the best of his human ability did not endear him to radio folks. Sadly, as it has well been documented, Christian radio tends to gravitate towards the most cliche sounding, as many mentions of Jesus per minute as possible in a four minute song, format for the music they play. Mark Heard’s songs, that spoke of wrestling with the current reality of the world versus the eternal reality of Heaven did not have a place in a format such as that.


In the early 1980’s Heard did actually have a minor hit on Christian, ironically enough, with the song “The Pain That Plagues Creation” off of his 1983 acoustic album “Eye Of The Storm.” That album was made to appease Heard’s label Home Sweet Home Record’s owner Chris Christian, who asked Heard to make an album of acoustic songs to make him more marketable to Christian radio. Heard appeased him, but still used his incredible songwriting craft to speak what was on his heart, regardless of the sound.


Heard’s relationship with Home Sweet Home Records was always a bit strained, though to be fair Chris Christian never told Heard what he could and could not write when it came to lyrics.
During those years 1981-1986 Heard crafted some amazing songs about the world we live in and the comfort and challenge for us who do know Jesus (“Heart Of Hearts,” “We Believe So Well,” “All Is Not Lost”) and the pain and blindness of those who don’t (“Victims Of The Age,” “One Of The Dominoes,” “Heart On The Line”)


In 1987 Heard participated in an artist run subsidiary label of Word Records called “WHAT? Records” alongside other fringe artists like Tonio K., Dave Perkins, and T Bone Burnett. His lone album contribution was under the band pseudonym “Ideola” and the album was “Tribal Opera.” The sound was on par with 80’s synthesizer bands like The The and The Five Young Cannibals. The lyrics were solid, especially on “How To Grow Up Big And Strong” where Heard laments the disastrous effects of a culture that values aggression without love. The song would later be covered by both Rich Mullins and Olivia Newton John.


Then, WHAT Records folded and for three years, Heard had no label. He continued to write and produce work for other artists and shopped his own demos to record labels of all kinds, but none were interested.


So in 1990, alongside his friend Dan Russell, Heard formed his own label, and would begin recording a trilogy of albums (“Dry Bones Dance,” “Second Hand,” and “Satellite Sky”) that would boast the best and most honest songwriting ever put to magnetic tape.


Songs like “Rise From The Ruins,” “Dry Bones Dance,” and especially “Strong Hand Of Love” reminded us all of the hope we have in Christ, even if they didn’t mention Him by name. He is of course the “Strong hand of Love hidden in the shadows” through whom we will ‘rise from the ruins one day” and with whom we will one day live in a paradise “where the orphans sockle and the slaves go free”


“Nod Over Coffee” from “Second Hand” reminded us of the fact that time is constantly moving under ‘the curse of the second hand’ and that we need to make even the seemingly most mundane moments count.


“Another Good Lie,” “All Too Soon” and “It’s Not Your Fault” lamented the human condition of living in a fallen world, but were balanced by songs like “Look Over Your Shoulder” and “Love Is Not The Only Thing” where we were reminded of the fact that “it takes more than your passion and more than your pain, for the Rock of Forgiveness to melt in the rain” (“Look Over Your Shoulder”) and that “Love is not the only thing, but it’s the best thing” in this life.


As I said way back at the start, “Satellite Sky” was the best of the three, and is the album I contantly come back to for reassurance both that I am not going crazy at the world’s deep pain, and that God is faithful at the same time.


Perhaps the greatest reminder of that on the entire album comes down to the song I mentioned a while back, “Orphans of God” and particularly the lines that so many of us Christians walk around “unaware that the struggle is the blood of the proof, in choosing to believe the unbelievable Truth.”


What is that “unbelievable Truth” that our struggle in life reflects? My opinion, and I firmly believe Mark Heard’s was as well, is that by believing the fact that Jesus died and rose again to set us free from our bondage of sin, we will have a struggle in life. There will be times we doubt, and times we truly wonder if it is worth it. However, the fact that we struggle only reinforces the fact that Jesus is the way and truth and life (John 14:6). If it wasn’t true, and something we could hold to as a huge part of our presuppositional apologetics, there would be no struggle.


So my friends, as the apostle James once said “consider it joy my brothers, when you encounter trials of any kind” (James 1:2). That struggle is proof that you are making the choice to believe in the Gospel.


Mark Heard declared that choice over 25 years ago. He reminded us that our struggle is normal, our pain is temporary, and our joy can be sustainable. He modeled what it meant by ‘choosing to believe, the unbelievable truth.”

Happy 25th anniversary in Heaven Mr. Heard. May I one day get to tell you how much you have encouraged this ‘broken man’ in a ‘broken land.’

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Thousand Stars: A Short Time Capsule Piece


It was a typical hot summer night in New York City. The Mets were playing at Shea Stadium, hosting the Chicago Cubs. Lightning flashed in the distance, and then suddenly, darkness. All over New York’s five boroughs the lights went out. Lighting strikes had overloaded the power grids, plunging the entire city into darkness. It was just after 9:30pm. It was July 13th, 1977, exactly forty years ago tonight. Subway trains stalled. Elevators stopped. Thousands of folks were suddenly stranded!



What commenced over the next 25 hours as city workers strived to get the power back on, was sadly a night of looting and arson fires breaking out all over the city, as the mid-70’s economic downturn was fully coming to a head. Eventually folks were evacuated out of the subways, but then busses became over-crowded, and streets became unsafe because of the looters, so many sought shelter in hotels around the city, causing some to have to sleep in the lobbies on the floor once rooms filled up. There was even a tragic murder committed, of a young 17 year old fella living in Brooklyn. It was a murder that to this day, has never been solved. Much of that night was shrouded in mystery, but it is a night of famous American folklore.



Despite all the ugly taking place around the city, New Yorkers had a chance to see the the stars and Milky Way in a way they never had before. Once the clouds cleared from the electrical storm, the sky was ablaze with thousands of stars normally not visible due to New York’s high light pollution and normal factory pollution, which had ceased due to the lack of power. The beauty of that summer sky stood in stark contrast to the depravity taking place down below.



Much like with the Northeast Blackout of the summer of 2003, which was far more widespread and reached where I live here in Cleveland, OH (the stories of which I plan to recount next summer for the 15th anniversary), people were treated to a night of sky viewing that few people have the opportunity to do these days.


That lone magical part of the blackout story is what has drawn writers to occasionally work this story into their movies, television shows and books. It was author Brian Selznick’s 2011 novel “Wonderstruck” which works this famous date into it’s story line, that first clued me into doing some research into this famous New York City event, and why I choose to take a small moment to write about this date, to feed my history junkie side. It was the true night people saw ‘the lights go out on broadway” as Billy Joel once sang.


Hope you enjoyed this time capsule.

Here is a link to the New York Times online tribute to this event. Lots of great memories from folks who lived through this night of darkness.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Landmark Concert Anniversaries and such: A Reflection on some music of yesteryear.


It is remarkable that two significant concert anniversaries are about to transpire next week as the July 4th Holiday descends on us. That day will mark the 25th Anniversary of Mark Heard’s final live concert performance, the 20th Anniversary of perhaps the most memorable concert in the career of the fantastic 90’s band The Vigilantes of Love. It also will mark, though two days off, the 20th Anniversary of what would become Adam Again’s final concert. All three of these shows took place at the Cornerstone Festival in Illinois farm country outside of Chicago.



The Cornerstone Festival began in 1984 and was put on by Jesus People USA, a Christian community that emphasized the importance of the Church’s role in redeeming Creation. One of the biggest ways they promoted this message was to organize and put on the Cornerstone Music Festival every summer, generally centered around the days leading up to and just after the 4th of July Holiday. They often booked artists on the fringes of the Christian Music world, artists who may not have always been blatantly evangelistic in their lyrics, but were still open about being Christians making music.



Mark Heard was perhaps the definition of a Christian artist in that sense. His lyrics were never what most would consider worship, but they rang out strongly with a worldview that was very Christ focused. He had toiled in the fringes of Christian music, becoming a favorite songwriter of other songwriters including distinguished names like Bruce Cockburn and Bono from U2. That July 4th evening in 1992, when Heard took the stage for the Midnight set on the smaller Encore stage, he had just completed and released his 12th studio album titled “Satellite Sky.” Backing him up on accoustic guitar and harmonica was Pierce Pettis, and on vocals was Pam Dwindell Miner.


Heard played through a full 12 song set, complete with a lot of between song banter with the audience, said “Goodnight” and “God Bless” and exited to a standing ovation, where he collapsed into a chair suffering from a heart attack. Apparently he had not been feeling well during the end of his set, and had whispered to Pierce Pettis during a musical break that ‘I think I am having a heart attack.” Heard was known for his off-beat and snarky humor, and Pettis assumed he was joking. It was no joke sadly this time, and Heard was rushed to the nearby hospital, where he was diagnosed with severe artery blockage. The doctors decided Heard could be released and fly home to California where he should have heart surgery. Sadly, Heard would never make it back to Los Angeles, as he suffered a far more severe heart attack in his hotel room hours after being released from the hospital, leaving him in a coma that he would never come out of, passing away on August 16th, 1992.


That is why that concert, which we will commemorate the 25th anniversary of next week, is memorable. Video cameras were present that night at the Encore stage and captured rough footage of the show, which has since been released in audio form on CD, and here in this Youtube video.


Five years later to the day, at the same Cornerstone Festival, at the same time (Midnight) the best fringe band of the 90’s, The Vigilantes of Love, led by Bill Mallonee, took the stage to perform a full out rootsy rock and roll concert touring in support of their “Slow Dark Train” album.
The band kicked off into their set and were ramped up to full speed when the entire soundboard failed during their performance of “Black Crow” leaving them unable to hear their in-ear monitors or for their amplifiers to work properly. As the tech crew fumbled to repair the sound board and restore power to all of the equipment, band members Mallonee and bassist Chris Bland began telling stories and reading off a long list of thank you’s from the band. Then as power slowly began to be restored, the band reworked their set-list on the spot to accommodate some quieter, acoustic songs until all equipment was back up to full power. The band then proceeded to play for over two and half more hours, ending their show at just after 3am. Fans still regard this as the finest live concert the Vigilantes ever performed at Cornerstone, and having heard the bootlegs I can see why. It was a night that lives in immortality now as the both the band and the festival are no longer in existence (more on that last part a little later).

Couple of songs from that show (full show not available) here and here



Cornerstone 1997 also would mark the final concert from Christian Alternative Rock aficionados Adam Again, led by guitarist and songwriter Gene Eugene (real last name Androsco, though he never used it professionally). Eugene was instrumental to the southern California late 80’s alternative rock explosion, founding what was initially Broken Records, which later became Brainstorm Artists International (BAI). Through both his label, and his home/recording studio known as “The Green Room,”  alternative albums were produced and recorded over the next 12 years by Starflyer 59,  L. S. U., The Choir, The 77’s, The Lost Dogs, Fold Zandura, Plankeye, Dead Artist Syndrome and many, many, others. Eugene’s influence on 90’s fringe Christian art cannot be understated. His songwriting and lead vocals with Adam Again are still ranked as some of the best ever in rock and roll. In 1997, Adam Again played a late night set two nights prior the aforementioned Vigilantes of Love concert. Eugene actually had some amp and guitar issues throughout the show, but soldiered forward undaunted. Perhaps the most memorable part of the show is how during the encore performance of “So Long,” fans actually climb up on stage to dance around to the music. Eugene can be seen with a grin on his face as he sings the final verse, witnessing this all unfold, stating as he bid the audience goodnight, ‘hey, get off the stage, you bums!”


The stories go that soon after this performance, Eugene and bandmate Greg Lawless went back to The Green Room, where they demoed and jammed new material that they had hopes to use for the next Adam Again album. However, due to scheduling constraints and Eugene’s high demand as a producer, the band went on a hiatus, that ultimately became permanent in March of 2000, when Gene Eugene Androsco passed away from an undiagnosed brain aneurysm.


The Christian music world was stunned. Similar to when Mark Heard died, Eugene left a huge hole in the all important cult following world of the “Christian Music Underground.” The surviving members of Adam Again came to Cornerstone 2000 to pay tribute to Eugene. Various friends as diverse as Karin Berquist from Over The Rhine, Sim Wilson from Undercover, Michael Roe from The 77’s and Michael Knott from L.S.U., took turns singing lead vocals.


The Cornerstone Festival continued until 2012, when Jesus People USA chose to end the 28 year run of festivals, citing dwindling recent attendance, and increasing financial burden being the main causes. While I never had the chance to attend a festival, I had always hoped to one day be able to, and felt the sadness of knowing that that window of opportunity was now passed. As a Christian Music Historian I knew the importance this festival had had to the history of the genre, and their willingness to embrace the fringe artists was unprecedented. I couldn’t argue with the folks at JPUSA’s decision, as they are an organization that believes in helping the poor in Chicago and showing the light of Jesus to dark places. If putting on a music festival was hindering that, then they made the right decision.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Surprising Peace: Reflections on Turning 30

Over the past few months I have been mentally preparing for tomorrow. Tomorrow I turn 30. I admittedly found myself quite apprehensive about this fact. As I really began to examine and pray on why I was apprehensive I realized it was because I felt there were some gaps in my history. Particularly gaps in two areas of near lifelong interests of mine: Music and Major League Baseball.

Specifically, growing up, I inherited a lot of my parents cassette tapes when I was young. Music was my first love. I played many of these cassettes and wore them out, or they jammed in my cassette player, or accidentally got stepped on, etc. We have evolved technology wise into much easier and higher quality sounding recording mediums, but I have always had a sentimentality about cassettes. Therefore back in January, when I completed the building of my full retro stereo, I began purchasing some of the name brands and makes of cassette tapes on Ebay that my parents had used for recording the very albums I grew up listening to and enjoying. I then recorded the albums on those same cassette models using the tape deck I had purchased second hand. Thus, I filled in my history by recreating what I had back at age four, five and six, filing in my history and finding a strange peace in moving forward in life.

Now to my love for Major League Baseball. I didn’t develop this interest until the Autumn of 1995, due to the Cleveland Indians’ magical run to the World Series, and my Grandfather’s tutelage on what makes the game so great. However, my entire life I had always wanted to go back and learn about and see games that had occurred between 1987-1995, the eight  years of my life that I didn’t follow the game. I used to always ask my grandfather “did people record games from back then?” and he would say “probably, but I don’t know who did.” I would always read stories about years like 1989, when the Loma Prieta Earthquake caused a ten day delay in the World Series, or hear people slightly older than me talk about classic playoff and World Series games in the early 90’s, and wish I had been able to see them. Heck, I even wished to watch games played by the Indians at Cleveland Municipal Stadium during that time, even though they were known to be horrible!

This past February I was on YouTube and happened to notice a playlist called “Classic MLB” and looked at it curiously. I saw in this list were links to tons of FULL baseball games from back in the late 80’s and early 90’s! My eyes lit up! Could I finally have that wish fulfilled? Sure enough, every game from the 1991 and 1993 World Series in on there! Footage from San Francisco in 1989 is on there! There are even some Indians games from back in the late 80’s and early 90’s posted there! So I have been filling in my history over the past three months, watching and enjoying those games! Seeing players like Lenny Dykstra, Dave Henderson, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Mitch Williams, Kirby Puckett, Terry Pendleton, Dennis Eckersley and even Indians players from the ‘bad years’ like Cory Snyder, Brook Jacoby, and Pat Tabler succeed and fail on the big stages, has been thrilling!

Somehow being able to fill in my cassette collection and take in classic baseball games as if they were live has given me peace. I don’t completely understand how or why, but I do know that back in December I was praying for God to give me peace over my upcoming 30th birthday. I never could have anticipated that this was the way He would do, but it has sure seemed to be the case! Matthew 6:8 tells us that our Father in heaven knows our needs before we even ask, and I can say with all honesty that I have seen this to be true in my life these last six months. So tomorrow, at 2:37pm, when I officially have been on this earth for 30 years, I can say I am at peace with it, and looking forward to what Jesus has planned for me in this next decade!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

In the Matter of One Week's Time...And What a Week it Was- A musing on a sports miracle

It was a warm Friday night in Northeast Ohio. One of those Mid-June evenings that bridges the gap between spring and summer. However this evening there wasn’t much joy being felt over this fact. In an arena in downtown Cleveland, the city’s beloved basketball team the Cleveland Cavaliers were in the final minutes of a certain defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, a team that seemed destined to win the Championship over the Cavs. Fans looked downcast, some holding back tears, as the final minute ticked away. This was it, game four was ending and the Cavs were one loss away from series defeat. Worse, they were headed back to Oakland for game five……

Game five took place on a Monday night, a night strangely chilly for June 13th. On that chilly night though, began what now are easily remembered as six day of magic for all those living on shores of the lake called Erie with a tower that is Terminal. That night, behind 41 point performances from both Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, the Cavaliers shocked everyone by beating the Warriors on their home court,112-97, and successfully sending the series back to Cleveland for game six; a game that everyone knew, would be the biggest sporting event the town had hosted in many years.

That Thursday night was definitely a big deal! Fans who attended the game were give a black shirt with a big Cavs “C” on it. The goal was to give the effect of a sea of black in the stands, and it worked. The Cavs picked up right where they left off in game five, opening the game with a 8-0 run, leading to a 31-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. The crowd was electric the entire game and the Cavs never lost the lead for the entire game, though the Warriors naturally made it quite close at times. However, the final was 115-101, and suddenly NE Ohio began to buzz. Suddenly the reality began to set in. The Cavs had forced a game seven; something that less than a week prior had seemed unthinkable!

Father’s day. June 18th, 2016. What a day. I was actually at the Indians game that afternoon with my parents. The Indians won the game, and as the fans were exiting Jacob’s Field, chants of ‘Let’s go Cavs! Let’s go Cavs!!” broke out. The city of Cleveland was alive with a buzz that I have not experienced very often. That afternoon, there were equal amounts of traffic leaving downtown after the Indians game, and entering downtown to get ready for what would go down as perhaps the biggest city wide watch party in the history of Cleveland, OH. People lined up in parking garages to watch the game on the giant screen outside Quicken Loans Arena, while inside that same arena 20,000 fans lined the seats to watch the game on the giant screens inside. Every bar was filled to the max. Many ran out of everything. However, no one was overly angry about it. This night would belong to Cleveland folklore forever.

You all know the rest and don’t need me to re-count it in full detail, but needless to say as Kyrie Irving hit the three pointer with under a minute left, and LeBron hit his second free throw to ice the Cavs 93-89 win, downtown Cleveland became the scene of perhaps the biggest celebration possible. Policemen were heard saying back to their dispatchers, “we are currently watching a giant crowd of people. They aren’t violent, they are just very happy.” Strangers hugged. People high-fived and shook hands with city police officers. That night, there was total unity of mind and heart. For one night, politics didn’t matter. Differing beliefs about doctrine didn’t matter.. For the Christian it was a microscopic example of what heaven will be like one day, where all believers are completely united in love and mind before Christ. Sports, while often heavily idolized, are one of the few uniters of people we still have, and can be harnessed for so much good. That night in Cleveland, no one rioted. No one looted. Everyone took care of each other. May we begin to see that happen more and more in Cleveland!

Even if the Cavs bring us another championship this year, it won’t be quite like the experience of that first one. Things like what this town experienced over those crazy six nights, are unrivalled and unprecedented. A Cleveland team overcoming a 3-1 deficit was simply unthinkable. No one dared even believe it was possible. That is why the first ever Cleveland Cavalier’s Championship in franchise history, and the first championship for Cleveland in 52 years was record breaking and stunning and absolutely euphoric. A second championship in many years would be fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but I also won’t be devastated if this year doesn’t end with a repeat championship. LeBron and company got us one championship, and if we are all honest, that is more than probably many of us thought we would see in our lifetime. Never forget the joy of last year’s win. No matter what happens this year, no one can ever take that away. Go Cavs!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Five Great Indians Home Openers! -Another Story Blog

In honor of the Indians 24th home opener at Jacob’s Field set to occur this afternoon, I thought it might be fun to look back on what I consider to be the five greatest home opening games in the ballpark’s history.

5. April 4th, 2014. The 20th anniversary of the ballpark doesn’t look to be overly impressive or exciting upon first look at the score. The Indians won handily 7-2. However, for over half the game the Tribe’s offense had been shut out, and they headed into the bottom of the sixth trailing the Minnesota Twins 2-0. Then catcher Yan Gomes had a seven pitch at bat to start off the inning, culminating in a solo home run, cutting the deficit in half. A walk and sacrifice bunt later, and Nick Swisher teed off on a pitch, scorching it into the right center field stands, netting the Indians a 3-2 lead, a lead they would continue to add on to as the game went on.

4. April 6th, 2007. A piece of humorous Cleveland sports lore is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary. Technically there is no record of this game ever happening, because well, it technically wasn’t an official game. However, those of us who tuned in or were at Jacob’s Field for this home opener will never forget the events that did transpire. It was cold, and snowy most of that Good Friday afternoon, but at just after 4pm the snow slowed to just about non-existent and the game began. Amidst snow flurries for the next four and two thirds innings, the Indians built a 4-0 lead over the Seattle Mariners. Then the snow began to really come down hard, and with two outs, the Mariners had the bases loaded and Jose Lopez at the plate. That is when Mariners manager Mike Hargrove chose to go out and plead his case with the umpires that his hitters couldn’t see the ball due to the snow. As Hargrove strategically stalled for time, the snow thickened ever more, the umpires called for the game to be delayed, and the rest as they say is history. The snow didn’t stop in Cleveland for two more days, causing the postponement of the entirely scheduled four game series, as well as moving the next scheduled three game series with the Los Angeles Angels to Milwaukee’s Miller Park. The Mariners would need to come into Cleveland three separate times throughout the summer of 2007 to make up the games. Had the Indians been allowed to get that final out in the top of the 5th inning, one game would have been official at least, but then, there wouldn’t be this chapter addition in the bizarre stories of Cleveland sports lore.

3. April 10th, 1998. On Good Friday afternoon,the Indians opened the home portion of their 1998 schedule, and had gotten a 5-4 lead to closer Mike Jackson headed into the top of the ninth inning against the then Anaheim Angels. With two outs, a single by Garrett Anderson tied the score at 5-5 and sent the game into extra innings. Despite the blown save, the Tribe was resilient, and as they entered the tenth against Angel’s closer Troy Percival, a pitcher they had a lot of success against in the 90’s, there was good reason for optimism. With two men on and one out, Jim Thome stepped up to the plate and hammered Percival’s 1-1 pitch deep into the opposite field bleachers for a walk off three run homer, sending the sell-out crowd into a roar of euphoria. My personal memory of this game, was waiting around the television with my parents while we talked with my grandparents on the phone. Our plan to all go out to a fish fry was temporarily halted when the game went into extra innings. The agreement was that if the Indians didn’t score in the 10th, we would meet at the fish fry and listen to the rest of the game via the radio. All of that discussing and deciding was brought to mute when Thome connected, sending us out to dinner on a thrilling note!


2. April 12th, 1999. It was a chilly but sunny afternoon. Dave Burba pitched for the Indians and did well, holding the Royals to just two runs. However, the Tribe’s offense was non existent, and through seven innings they trailed 2-0. Then in the bottom of the eighth, Kenny Lofton walked, and Enrique Wilson, not known for his power by any means, had a hard fought seven pitch at bat, ending with him lining a 3-2 pitch over the right field fence for a two run homer, knotting the score at 2-2! In the bottom of the ninth, the Indians loaded the bases with two outs, but Roberto Alomar grounded out and sent the game into extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, after a walk and single put runners on first and second, Travis Fryman stepped up and launched a high fly ball that just carried over the wall in right center field, sending the sell-out crowd home happy!

1. April 4th, 1994. Simply put, the inaugural game at Jacob’s Field is still the greatest home opener the corner of Carnegie and Ontario has ever hosted. Randy Johnson took a no hitter and 2-0 lead into the eighth inning, with Indians legend Bob Feller, the only pitcher to ever hurl an opening day no hitter, pacing nervously in the press box, as his distinction began to undergo serious threat of slipping away. Johnson walked Candy Maldonado to start the bottom of the eight and then Sandy Alomar broke up the no hit bid with a single! Manny Ramirez followed that by hitting a long drive off the wall in left field for a double, allowing both runners to score and knotting the score at 2-2! The game headed to the tenth where the Mariners regained the lead 3-2, before a young Jim Thome pinch hit with a man on and one out in the tenth and lined a double down the right field, moving Manny Ramirez to third. An RBI groundout later by Omar Vizquel re-tied the score at 3-3. Finally in the bottom of the 12th, Wayne Kirby slashed a single down the left field line, scoring Eddie Murray with the winning run! It was a game that featured a little of everything, and set the tone for the type of games Jacob’s Field would host over the next 22 years!

What type of excitement will this ballpark host in 2017? We begin to find out today! Go Tribe!


Footage from The "Snow Opener" in 2007

First Game At Jacob's Field (Part 1)

First Game at Jacob's Field (Part 2)

Home Opener 2014 Highlights

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Day A Baseball Game Saved Hundreds of Lives-A True Story

It was an exceptionally warm day for October, even by Bay Area standards.  The temperature sat in the mid 80’s and the late afternoon sun was shining brightly, as people were arriving into and finding their seats at Candlestick Park, where the first pitch of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants was set to occur in a half hour. It was 5pm, West Coast Time, and ABC was just beginning their pregame broadcast.


Then suddenly at 5:04pm, as broadcaster Tim McCarver was narrating highlights of game two of the Series, the ground began to shake, the TV feed got choppy, and fellow broadcaster Al Michaels interjected to state “I tell you what, we are having an earth….” and then silence….followed by static and then an empty ABC logoed blue screen, finally followed by, as audio began to come back on the air, Al Michaels stating an earthquake had just in fact occurred and added for the sake of levity “that was the greatest opening in the history of television.”


Power went out all over both San Francisco and Oakland, including the power at Candlestick Park, and therefore the game would be cancelled shortly after, as players sought to find their own family members amongst the crowd. What had initially produced additional excitement in the crowd slowly turned to a quiet somber mood, as word began to spread through fans with portable battery operated radios that the earthquake had caused highway bridges had collapsed as well as a section of the Bay Bridge. What had just occurred would come to be known as the Loma Prieta Earthquake, and it measured at 6.9 on the RIchter scale.


Just prior to that season Candlestick Park had ungone major structural improvements that likely prevented the quake from causing the upper grandstands to fall. No one knows for sure, but thousands of fans could have been injured or killed had these repairs not taken place. However, these improvements allowed the ballpark to actually be one of the safest places for the crowd of 62,000 people to be at that moment.


Across the Bay in Oakland, a section of the top of the double tiered Cypress Street Viaduct collapsed onto the lower deck, crushing cars underneath, killing 42 people. However, highway experts estimate that had this been a normal Tuesday at 5pm, hundreds of cars would have been on that freeway section at that time, but due to the World Series game, many folks had left work early, or stayed at work for office watch parties.


Thus, October 17th, 1989 can be remembered as a day a baseball game likely saved hundreds of lives, due to the unique nature of both cities having vested interests in the game, and the time of day the game was scheduled.  It is also the only known time an earthquake of such magnitude has ever been captured on live TV.


The World Series would resume 10 days later, after extensive examination of both Candlestick Park and The Oakland Coliseum, for structural soundness. The Oakland Athletics would win the series 4-0.


Prior to the start of the rescheduled game three, ABC sportscaster, Al Michaels would give this monologue on the endearing nature of baseball, and how in difficult times it can bring about healing and help restore a sense of normalcy to the world:


“At this very moment ten days ago, we began our telecast with an aerial view of San Francisco; always a spectacular sight, and particularly so on that day because the cloudless sky of October 17 was ice blue, and the late-day sun sparkled like a thousand jewels.


That picture was very much a mirror of the feel and the mood that had enveloped the Bay Area...and most of Northern California. Their baseball teams, the Giants and A's, had won pennants, and the people of this region were still basking in the afterglow of each team's success. And this great American sporting classic, the World Series, was, for the time being, exclusively theirs.


Then of course the feeling of pure radiance was transformed into horror and grief and despair- in just fifteen seconds.[16] And now on October 27, like a fighter who's taken a vicious blow to the stomach and has groggily arisen, this region moves on and moves ahead.


And one part of that scenario is the resumption of the World Series. No one in this ballpark tonight- no player, no vendor, no fan, no writer, no announcer, in fact, no one in this area period- can forget the images. The column of smoke in the Marina. The severed bridge. The grotesque tangle of concrete in Oakland. The pictures are embedded in our minds.


And while the mourning and the suffering and the aftereffects will continue, in about thirty minutes the plate umpire, Vic Voltaggio will say 'Play Ball', and the players will play, the vendors will sell, the announcers will announce, the crowd will exhort. And for many of the six million people in this region, it will be like revisiting Fantasyland.


But Fantasyland is where baseball comes from anyway and maybe right about now that's the perfect place for a three-hour rest.”


Indeed baseball is a great distraction to us in times of sadness. I began to understand this after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 prompted a week of baseball game cancellations around the country. However, on 9/18/01, baseball came back, and some healing through the joy of the great American past time began.

So, as we begin the great ride of the 162 game marathon that will make up the 2017 baseball season, we look back on a day a scheduled game potentially saved many lives, and prepare to enjoy the endearing seasonal ride once more, surrounded by friends and family. Go Tribe!


Actual Pregame Coverage leading up to the earthquake


MLB Tonight's 25th Anniversary Six Minute Documentary