Sunday, May 27, 2007

Local Umpire Continues to Give All He's Got

Bentson with Shonda Schilling & Brett Rudy
Walter Bentson is STILL a man on a mission. One of the state’s top umpires and President of the Boston Park League, Bentson is battling a debilitating muscle disease. But before it slows him down much further, he has set to make sure there’s help for those who came before him.

Bentson has primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), a neurological disease in the same family as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, the disease that claimed baseball Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. There are no assurances what the future holds for him, but the fate of friends claimed by ALS – and their families – rests near the top of his mind.

For 15 years, Walter has umpired all over New England. From Boston’s local amateur leagues to the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League, Bentson has truly loved the game of baseball and has carried himself with class and respect every step of the way. Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald wrote a stirring piece on Bentson back in June of 2005 entitled “True Blue.”

Even as the disease has slowed him down, Walter has been determined to keep doing what he loves. Last season, Bentson took his spot behind the dish for 1 final game. Rather than go out with a simple nine inning tilt – Walter had different plans. Bentson trained hard for months and successfully umpired over 60 innings in last years 100 Innings of Baseball Spectacular- including the 1st and 100th innings.

Making the feat even more remarkable, Walter simultaneously was able to raise over $25,000 on his own for the cause. These funds have been earmarked to the newly formed Walter Bentson ALS Scholarship Fund. This money, beginining in May of 2007, will be awarded to help the children of PALS receive continuing education despite the staggering costs associated with living with ALS.

Walter cites fellow ECAC umpire, Paul Brooks’ family situation, as a textbook example of who he hopes these funds can help. Brooks’ brother-in-law, Joe Shambo, recently lost his 6 ½ year battle with ALS. Paul’s sister, Maureen has been left to raise their two children, now 11 and 14. Maureen worked a full-time job, took care of Joe round the clock, and was still able to be a mother to her children. Eventually, a full-time caregiver was needed so that Maureen could still maintain income. This caregiver was paid for by the Shambo’s, not insurance. With the staggering costs of yearly medical bills, equipment, and services like the caregiver, Maureen and Joe, like so many others in this situation, were forced to liquidate retirement accounts, stocks, savings and the “college fund” so the expenses could be met. That’s where Walter’s fund will be able to lend a hand.

Despite his setbacks, Bentson continues his hard work off the field throughout the Massachusetts baseball circuit. In addition to being Boston Park League president, he is currently Umpire-n-Chief for City of Boston High Schools, RBI program, Yawkey League, Boston MABL/MSBL, in his third term as a Director for both the College Baseball Umpires Association (CBUA) and the South Shore Umpires Association (SSUA).

We are thrilled to once again offer our support to Walter and the MBUA (Massachusetts Baseball Umpires Association) and applaud his efforts to aid them in their continued fundraising. To make a donation to the Walter Bentson Scholarship Fund through Walter’s participation in the 2007 event, please click the link below or make your donation by phone at 1-888-CURE-ALS. Any and all donations are welcomed and greatly appreciated.

Donate to the Walter Bentson ALS Scholarship Fund

Thank you for your generous support.

Monday, May 21, 2007

This Dodgers Gold Glover Never Lost His Midas Touch

Wes Parker, right, greets Bert Grose at Braille Institute in L.A.,
where Parker, 67, teaches a sports class. He’s always been generous
with his time; in his playing days he hit fly balls to kids in the
Dodger Stadium parking lot after Sunday games.
(Gary Friedman / LAT)

By Jerry Crowe
Times Staff Writer
May 21, 2007

If you were one of the lucky kids befriended by Wes Parker in the early 1970s, when the Dodgers first baseman regularly hit fly balls to youngsters in the Dodger Stadium parking lot after Sunday home games, you probably won't be surprised to learn that Parker these days is a volunteer at the Braille Institute.

And if you are one of the sightless men and women who sometimes stand and applaud at the end of Parker's weekly sports class at Braille, you're probably not surprised to learn that, even back then, he was generous with his time.

Or, as class regular Alfredo Crispo puts it, "Wes Parker is awesome.

"Not at all, Parker says.

The 67-year-old former ballplayer and television actor — fans of "The Brady Bunch" may remember him from an episode in which he played the fiance of Greg Brady's math teacher — says he takes from these interactions as much as he gives.

That's why, when reporters back in the day asked about his Sunday afternoon routine, he pleaded with them not to write about it, lest it become overrun.

He didn't want it to end.

Read the rest of the article here

Friday, May 11, 2007

Seattle Pilots and Milwaukee Brewers

It is said that first impressions are usually correct. They surely were in the case of this franchise. Its first impression, created in Seattle in 1969, was that of a cash-strapped franchise having trouble competing on the Major League level. Little has changed in the thirty-six years since the team moved to Milwaukee.

Seattle was awarded one of the four expansion franchises given out by baseball for its centennial celebration in 1969. Former college and minor league players Dewey and Max Soriano were the recipients, backed by the money of William Daley, a former owner of the Cleveland Indians, who had once considered moving the Indians to the northwest.

The Seattle Pilots lived only one year, finishing in last place in the American League West at 64-98. The team's escapades were immortalized far beyond their accomplishments or impact in Jim Bouton's tell-all memoir "Ball Four."

After the one season of poor play and lagging attendance (about 678,000) at the revamped minor league park called Sicks Stadium, Daley withdrew his investment, essentially bankrupting the team.

The franchise was sold to a conglomerate headed by Milwaukee auto magnate Bud Selig. Despite some last minute legal contests, Selig won the approval of baseball to move the franchise to Milwaukee and the Brewers were reborn, having existed once previously in the American League's initial season of 1901. Those Brewers moved to St. Louis to become the Browns in 1902. The National League's Milwaukee Braves had played here from 1953-65.

The Brewer's first decade was mostly a dance with the bottom of the American League - first the Western Division where they played in 1970-71, and then the American League East, where they moved in 1972, trading places with the Washington Senators franchise which moved west to Texas.

It did not matter in which division they played. The Brewers were basically a moribund crew through most of the 1970s. Their only claim to fame was having all-time home run king Hank Aaron on the team in 1975-76. Aaron hit the last twenty-two of his seven-hundred fifty-five home runs for the Brewers.

The Brewers began to stir under the leadership of General Manager Harry Dalton and field manager George Bamberger, earning a third place finish in 1978. The Brewers steadily improved their roster until, at the end of the decade, they suddenly had one of the strongest teams in the game, featuring a combination of home grown talent and imported veteran talent including future Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper, Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie, Sal Bando and Sixto Lezcano.

The acquisition of all-star catcher Ted Simmons (1980) and relief ace Rollie Fingers (1982) helped put the team over the top. The Brewers won the back-half of the two-part strike season of 1981 with Cooper hitting .320 and Thomas smacking twenty-one home runs, one behind the league leader Eddie Murray. The team lost the Divisional Playoff to the Yankees in the maximum five games.

There were great expectations for the 1982 team, but it got off to a sluggish start under manager Buck Rodgers. He was fired with the team at 23-24, and replaced by coach Harvey Kuenn. Under Kuenn, the Brewers went 72-43 and destroyed American League pitching to gain the nickname "Harvey's Wallbangers"

The team hit two-hundred sixteen home runs, led by Thomas (league leading thirty-nine home runs & one-hundred twelve runs batted in), Cooper (thirty-two home runs, one-hundred twenty-one runs batted in & .313) and MVP shortstop Robin Yount (twenty-nine home runs, one-hundred fourteen runs batted in & .331). The team also had a solid pitching rotation anchored by Cy Young Award winner Pete Vuckovitch (18-6, 3.34), Mike Caldwell (17-13, 3.91) and Fingers who saved twenty-nine games.

The Brewers were tied with the Orioles for the East Division lead on the last day of the season. The Brew Crew prevailed in the final game 10-2 to win its first, and to date, only outright Divisional Championship. They then became the first team to rally from an 0-2 deficit in the best-of-five Championship Series, coming back to sweep three straight from the Angels. They came up short however, losing a seven game World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Since their only post-season appearances in 1981-82, the franchise has had trouble competing. A combination of poor management, a famished farm system and restricted financial resources has kept the Brewers at or near the bottom of the standings. Two exceptions were a third place 91-71 record in 1987 under Tom Trebelhorn and a second place 90-72 record in 1992 under Phil Garner.

In 1998, the Brewers agreed to move from the American League to the National League in order to provide a balance for interleague scheduling and in 2001, the team moved from Milwaukee County Stadium to Miller Park, a state-of-the-art ballpark with a retractable roof. The Selig family sold the franchise in 2004. The new owner, Los Angeles investment banker Mark Attanasio and manager Ned Yost recorded a milestone of sorts — bringing home an 81-81 record for the Brewers in 2005, snapping the team's skein of losing seasons which has reached back to 1992.

"They (the city of Milwaukee) have the best bratwurst and the best tailgate parties in all of baseball here (Milwaukee County Stadium)." - Author Philip J. Lowry in Green Cathedrals (1992)