Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Me and Mark Buehrle

Mark Buehrle has pitched in 371 Major League games since breaking in with the White Sox in mid-season 2000. During that time, I’ve seen 185 Sox games (including games at Wrigley Field, Miller Park, Safeco Field, the old Yankee Stadium and Nationals Park and 5 in the post-season), in which Buehrle started 21. Four (now six) stand out, all seen from Section 126, Row 9.

Opening Day, 2010

Drafted in the 38th round of the 1998 amateur draft, Buehrle was 21 when called up to the Sox. He started only four games that year but joined the rotation the following season and has been the Opening Day starter every year except 2007 from 2002 to 2011. His regular-season record in 365 games is 149 wins and 113 losses, with an ERA of 3.87. Buehrle is also 2-1 in five post-season series, including wins in the ALDS and ALCS in 2005. He also pitched one-third of an inning in relief in the 2000 ALDS.

Game 2, 2005 ALDS

The game against the Kansas City Royals on August 17, 2006, began inauspiciously, as lead-off man David DeJesus homered off Buehrle. Sox lead-off man Pablo Ozuna tied the game with a home run off Odalis Perez in the bottom of the inning. Buehrle again surrendered a round-tripper to Chicago native Emil Brown to start the 2nd inning, and Jermaine Dye returned the favor with a home run, knotting the score at 2-2 leading off the Sox’s 2nd. I thought this was a very rare occurrence, and in the 5th inning the scoreboard posted that it was the first time in baseball history that the lead-off men for both teams homered in the 1st and 2nd innings.I turned to my 94-year-old uncle Adolph (he’ll be 100 in January) and said, “See, all of these years you’ve been coming out to the ballpark [since 1921], and you still see something new.” It has not been repeated. The Sox went on to win, 5-4.

Once in baseball history, 2006

The following season, my cousin Jim offered me tickets for the April 18, 2007, game vs. the Texas Rangers (NOTE: I pay Jim for tickets because of the number of games). Although the forecast was for 40-degree weather, I still took two tickets (he offered four) for his seats five rows behind the first-base dugout. It took five phone calls before I found somebody to go (the others had other commitments), so I put on six layers of clothing, a scarf, hat and gloves and met my computer guy Dave at the ballpark. One young adult (I use that term loosely) behind us screamed from the opening pitch, and I heard him say, “I don’t know if I can keep this up all game.” He did, but by the end we didn’t care. Buehrle lost his perfect game in the 5th inning after walking DH Sammy Sosa on a 3-2 count.  He promptly picked him off first. By the 9th inning, the announced crowd of 25,390 was on their feet (the 39-degree temperature helped), as Buehrle had retired every batter since Sosa. The 27th Ranger hitter, catcher Bruce Laird, bounced a slow roller to Joe Crede, who threw to Paul Konerko for the 5-0 no-hit victory. I have four friends, one of whom was in Dallas that night, wishing they could have been there.

No hitter, 2007

I was in Brighton Park photographing some former synagogues on July 23, 2009, when my cousin Cathy left a message that they had an extra ticket for the afternoon game vs. Tampa Bay. I’d gone two nights before with Jim and considered buying a ticket outside the ballpark (never paid more than $20), but this would be better deal. While almost out the door, I turned back to get my camera. I had decided not to take it to the previous game; because this was a day game and I wanted to photograph the 2008 American League champions, the camera came along. As is the case when shooting a game from this vantage point, I photographed each opposing batter, usually during their first plate appearance. Little did I know after snapping lead-off man B.J. Upton that two hours later I’d be photographing a piece of baseball history.

B.J. Upton, July 23, 2009

Having seen Buehrle’s 2007 no-hitter and Gavin Floyd lose one with 1 out in the 9th to the Twins in 2008, I wasn’t overly excited as every single Rays batter was retired. By the 7th inning, however, people were on their cell phones, alerting friends and family to turn on their televisions; the rest of us were holding our breaths. I shot Buehrle walking to the mound to pitch the ninth and Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler getting ready in the on-deck circle, then put my camera down, not wanting to miss any of the on-field action. It looked like the perfect game, no-hitter and shutout were all over, as Kapler skyed a high fly ball to left-center field. Dewayne Wise, who had been inserted into center field for defensive purposes at the start of the inning, made a spectacular catch to rob Kapler of a home run. The final obstacle was Jason Bartlett, who although was the #9 hitter went on to bat .320 that season. Alexei Ramirez fielded the sharp ground ball and threw to Josh Fields for the final out (Konerko was the DH that day, and Fields' grand-slam home run was responsible for 4 of the 5 Sox runs), and the ballpark erupted. Using my long zoom lens, I fired away, hoping for the best. Buehrle and Wise hugged for about a second near the Sox dugout, and luckily I captured it. (NOTE: My set of game photos can be found at  

Buehrle and Wise, July 23, 2009

My final notable game involved just one play. Buehrle was breezing through the Opening Day game on April 5, 2010, the Sox leading 4-0. With one out in the 5th, Indians batter Lou Marston hit a shot that Buehrle attempted to stop goalie style with his left leg. It hit his shin and bounded into the first-base foul territory. Avoiding Marston, Buehrle crossed the base line, grabbed the ball with his glove and scooped it underhand between his legs to Konerko, who caught the soft toss barehanded for the out. It earned an ESPN Web Gem, credited as one of the best plays ever by a pitcher, and helped win the Gold Glove.

Replay, April 5, 2010

I haven't seen Buehrle pitch this season and, if the rotation holds, probably won't see him take the mound until June. Perhaps then he'll toss another masterpiece, earn another Web Gem or help make baseball history. If so, maybe he'll leave me a pass for the rest of his starts.

ADDENDUM: Buehrle set the MLB record for most wins in interleague play - 24 - with a victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 21, 2011. Once again I was in Section 126, and once again I had my camera. Sadly, it also turned out to be the last game I attended with cousin Jim, who died suddenly on June 10 while on a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. His sister Cathy and I attended what most likely was his final Sox appearence on September 27, 2011, a 2-1 victory over Toronto. Stay tuned for further updates.

May 21, 2011

ADDENDUM 2: On December 7, 2011, it was reported the Miami Marlins signed Buehrle to a 4-year $58 million contract, uniting him with manager Ozzie Guillen.

Leaving the mound after final White Sox appearence,
September 27, 2011

ADDENDUM 3: Buehrle's first appearence as a Marlin in Wrigley Field was a 4-2 loss on July 19, 2012. He gave up all 4 runs in his 5 innings. My photo set was taken five rows behind home plate.I wanted to get his first pitch but the screen screwed up my focus.

Buehrle's second pitch to lead-off man Reed Johnson,
July 19, 2012

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kibitzing the Hunt

Hunting is not a particularly popular sport among those of the Hebrew persuasion. My rifle skills at summer camp were so-so, and thus I was never interested in spending a day slaughtering God’s creatures. Thanks to writers like Hemingway, hunting for some possesses a glamorous cachet.  I, however, found tromping through the Wisconsin countryside in search of birds on a cold, dank spring day far from glamorous. It was my first and only hunt, and I went without a rifle.

Cathy, a fellow teacher of Janet’s, and her husband, Jack (not his real name, for reasons apparent later), owned a farm near Cazenovia, Wisconsin. They invited another teacher, Eva, her husband, Norman, and Cathy’s sister and brother-in-law from Minneapolis for a weekend at the farm over May 23-25, 1975. We arrived late on Friday and awoke to find the men would be hunting this day. O.K., Jack and Norman would hunt and the brother-in-law and I would, in effect, kibitz the hunt.

Saturday dawned cold – in the 40s – cloudy and damp, just short of misting. Leaves had just begun returning to the trees, as the four and Jack’s dog made our way across woods, streams and pastures, occasionally traversing rusted barbed-wire fences. My assignment was carrying a #10 tin can filled with the farm’s homegrown weed, of which all but Norman indulged in before heading out. At one point, before nary a shot had been fired, we reached the top of a hill, only to find a few cows in the meadow. I thought of the story, which may be apocryphal, of Billy Martin shooting a rancher’s cows as part of a joke played on him by Mickey Mantle during a Texas hunting expedition.

Plunging again into the woods, Jack spotted a nest high in a distant tree. He aimed his rifle at it – I don’t think he was going to shoot – when just then a bird flew up from another direction. Norman, a Vietnam veteran, bagged it with one shot. They tried to get the dog to fetch it but he didn’t, so Norman retrieved the bird – a grouse – and placed it in a pocket in his hunting jacket. 

With no more birds in sight, the hunters figured on one more opportunity. Before us stood a field of dried-up cornstalks, each around 7 feet tall. Jack asked his brother-and-law and me to roust the birds out of the field; that is, to walk down the rows and swing our arms against the stalks in hopes birds were hiding within. As we were about to embark, Jack added, “Don’t get too far out there or the shot is liable to rain down on your heads.” Great, I thought, traipsing down a row, my life is going to end buzzed on bad weed after the only hunt of my life. Luckily, no birds rousted, no shots fired.

In keeping with the rustic theme of the weekend, dinner was forelle blau, or blue trout, a recipe from Jack’s German homeland he would try for the first time. The trout came from the pond on the property created by damming a stream. I doubt the fish qualified for the state’s size limit but because they were on caught on Jack’s property, they ended up on the dinner table. The recipe involved poaching the whole trout in vinegar – which turns the skin blue – and water and possibly other seasonings. Unfortunately, between having the poaching solution more at a boil than a light simmer and the extremely small size of the fish, most of trout busted into pieces What remained was hardly appetizing and insufficient to feed eight people. I don’t remember eating any but there was no alternative course and thus I went to bed very hungry.

We returned home on Sunday, without ever seeing the sun. Our hosts never invited us back, and my glamorous hunting career ended. The grouse? It was cleaned and put in the freezer, where it was forgotten until it became inedible. I appreciate the skill shown by hunters like Norman, although the sport is not for me; game farms and big-game safaris, however, don’t seem like sport at all.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lvov and Other Places

I recently read glowing reports about the city of Lvov in Ukraine, including one from New York Times foreign correspondent Clifford J. Levy, who listed it was the one place he’d like to revisit in 2011. The city, the largest in western Ukraine with approximately 730,000 residents, is a center of culture and architecture, some dating back to the city’s origin in the 13th century. From 1347 to 1569, Lvov was part of Poland, then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1772. The city in Galicia was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1772 to 1918, then in the new Polish republic until 1939 when it was annexed by the Soviet Union.  Germany occupied the area from July 1941 to July 1944. The Soviet Union recaptured Lvov in its push westward. Martin Buber, Emanuel Ax and Simon Wiesenthal were born here.

Levy briefly noted the once-large Jewish population was now quite small. Before World War II, it stood at about 100,000, then swelled to almost 200,000 as Polish refugees flooded the city. After a pogrom in 1941 by Germans and Ukrainian nationals, the Nazis established a ghetto in the city, shipping Jews in from towns across Galicia like Bukachevtsy. Most of them were sent to the Belzec death camp for immediate extermination, while those found fit to work were sent to the nearby Janowstra labor camp to toil as slave laborers in German arms plants. At the end of the German occupation, only 200-300 Jews remained.

Entrance to the former Lvov ghetto

Tonia and Hinda Mandel took their last breaths in Lvov, and certainly other of my family members passed through before their deaths. Here are the names and their stories to go with the brutal statistics.

As noted in my “Nazism in America” post (November 1, 2010), my great-grandfather, Abraham Bloomfeld, had three sisters, who for unknown reasons had the surname Winz. All were born in Burszytn in Galicia in the 1860s. One was Rose Winz, who married Meshulum Zalman Mandel from Bukachevtsy, a town in Galicia established in 1438, in 1884. Together, they had 10 children (all born in Bukachevtsy); the first three did not reach age 3. Numbers 5 through 8 immigrated to the United States. The fourth, Benjamin, and ninth and tenth, Charcha and Gitel, were not so fortunate, as Nazi deportations began in September 1942.

Rose Winz Mandel

Benjamin Mandel, born September 28, 1888, married Perel Glogower, also of Bukachevtsy, probably in 1917. One son, Mendel, died at 5 months, and a daughter, Eva died at 1 year. The sixth of the six children, Solomon was born April 5, 1925, and survived the war, passing away in Poland in 1970. Their three daughters, their husbands and children became part of the 6 million, as did aunts Charcha and Gitel and their families.

 Bukachevtsy sign

Sala Mandel, born five years before my mother in 1918, was married to Morris Schwartz. Their one daughter, Rusha, was born in 1939.  Sala and Rusha were murdered in Belzec in 1942. Morris died in an unknown place in Poland one year later. As noted earlier, Tonia (b. November 17, 1920) and Hinda (b. 1923) perished in Lvov in 1942.   

Rohatyn, another small town in the area, became the final destination for Charcha Mandel, her husband and two of her sister Gitel’s children. The Germans established a ghetto in the town in the fall of 1941 and murdered 2,000 Jews on March 20, 1942. Like Bukachevtsy, deportations to Belzec began in September 1942, and the ghetto was liquidated in June 1943. Charcha, born in 1900, married David Lempel, three years her senior, on April 3, 1924. Both perished in Rohatyn in 1943. The youngest Mandel daughter, Gitel (b. 1901), and her husband Leon Dawer (b. 1899) had four children. Solomon (b. 1926) and Elcha (b. 1932) were murdered in Rohatyn, and Tonia (b. 1930) was killed in Belzec, all in 1943. Abraham was spared this torture; he died short of a year old in 1929.

Jewish cemetery, Rohatyn

In checking the profile of a very skilled Flickr Contact, I found she is a native of Lvov, now living in Chicago. I wrote her and explained my interest in her hometown. She provided some information on the city and herself. After graduating from college in Ukraine, her family moved to the United States in 1995. She noted that all of the information and history taught was through the Soviet prism. Regarding Lvov’s past, she wrote, “I knew about the ghetto because my mother’s friend was there but he didn’t like to share information. Now he is living in Israel.”

I am therefore sharing this information. For those like Levy who may be visiting Lvov and admiring the beauty and culture, please remember that you will return home. Tonia and Hinda Mandel never did.

Former Bukachevtsy synagogue

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tarks of Dania Beach

One cannot claim to be a restaurant critic when he orders the same thing on every visit. I’m writing about this particular establishment because I passed it by for almost 30 years before stopping in. It’s now an annual eating spot.

Tarks of Dania Beach, Florida, established in 1966, is a five-minute drive south of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Travelers and locals driving on Federal Highway (U.S. 1) on their way to and from Fort Lauderdale or Jaxson’s famous ice cream parlor spot it on the east side of the road, a small, one-story building featuring paintings of palm trees, an oyster and a penguin. Despite traveling almost annually to south Florida since 1973, I didn’t stop in until five years ago, after I’d arrived a few days before Janet (my reward for opening the apartment, cleaning it up and buying the groceries). She has since resisted my requests to dine there, as its dive-like appearance and her avoidance of deep-fried foods dampened her interest.

A hole-in-the-wall, dive or whatever you want to call it, Tarks is as far from a white tablecloth establishment as it gets. The interior consists of a u-shaped counter and ledges at the windows, and it’s just clean enough to pass inspections. Well-worn stools are the only seating option.  Its small open kitchen puts everybody in direct contact. Rock music blares on the speakers, and ESPN is always on the one old analog TV. The fare is mostly fresh seafood – deep-fried, grilled and steamed – as well as buffalo wings. Bottled and draft beers ($1.50 during weekday happy hours) are the beverages of choice. Rolls of paper towels serve as napkins.

I opted for the fried clam bellies on my first visit. The menu indicated these were fresh, as opposed to the frozen clam strips. Curly fries seemed like a better option than the regular fries. The clams arrived hot from the fryer, which is visible behind the counter. The fries were dusted with seasoned salt. I simply say this: If I were on Death Row, I would order this for part of my last meal. They were so good I’ve never ordered another entrĂ©e there. And when they say fresh, they mean fresh. During one visit, the server asked if I’d mind a delay because they didn’t have any bellies ready. Of course not, I replied, to which one of the cooks shucked a dozen, then dredged and tossed them into the fryer. The wait, of course, was totally worthwhile.

The workers and patrons cover a wide spectrum of life. The main server calls me “Hon,” and the cooks always have quip or joke (usually NSFW). Diners tend to be a mix of residents and snowbirds, with a few tourists tossed in. Janet finally expressed an interest in eating there, and her first visit last month is a perfect example of Tarks’ dynamics. Arriving in mid-afternoon, we garnered the last two stools at the counter. A group of French-Canadians, a common sight in south Florida during the winter, were at our end, diligently poring over the menu for this first-time visit. While dining on clam bellies, New England clam chowder and conch salad, we struck up a conversation with the man on the next stool. Janet recognized his New York accent; sure enough, he’d dug clams in his youth on Long Island Sound.  Finding out we were from Chicago, he noted his college roommates were from the western suburbs. 

“Where did you go to college?” I asked. His reply: “Harvard.” As Janet noted, even men of Harvard love Tarks. Don’t pass it by. Maybe some day I’ll get to the oysters, shrimp, mahi-mahi and wings. Just don’t miss the clam bellies.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Third New Year's Day

I celebrate three New Year’s Days annually: January 1, Rosh Hashanah and Opening Day at Sox Park (or the first game attended). All affirm the passage of time in distinct ways: the calendar, religion and tradition.

The third home game of this season, on April 9 vs. Tampa Bay, will mark either 58 or 59 years of uninterrupted ballpark visits. I may or may not have attended a game in 1953 and can’t say for certain which game in 1954 was my first. Some years I’ve attended 20 games or more, while others just one. During this span, I missed attending a game in Chicago only one year – 1970 – but saw the Sox at Fenway Park during their miserable 56-106 season.

Comiskey Park 1990 and U.S. Cellular Field 2008

The first trip to the ballpark means a new year for several reasons. First and foremost is being inside a familiar venue for the first time in five or six months and live action on the field. If you’re lucky, it’s relatively warm after a cold winter and the grass is greener than in your neighborhood. Usually very little has changed – 1991 and 2005 notwithstanding – and your eyes pick out favorite spots that reinforce the continuity of life. Another is the people, notably the vendors (the toothless ice-cream guy in my youth; Kenneth my beer hawker today) and concession-stand workers, who never seem to age. And, of course, there’s all of the tradition and memories from childhood through to Social Security age.

Kenneth, 2009

My first Opening Day wasn’t until 1977. At least for the Sox, Opening Day tended to draw the crazies and casual fans who wouldn’t show up again. Frigid temperatures also discouraged attendance. In fact, my uncle and his family after shivering through too many openers began to sit in the right-field grandstands for game 1, figuring if the sun were out the game would be bearable. They took their usual season seats in Box 45, Tier 6 (later Box 39, Row H after the Golden Box renovation) for the 1977 opener versus the Red Sox, and I accepted their invitation to attend. Given the poor 1976 performance (64-97), predictions of a last-place finish behind an expansion team and rumors the team would be sold and moved, I figured I’d better go to one Opening Day before it was too late. Luckily, the day was sunny and in the 70s, and a barrage of hits chased starter Rick Wise in the 2nd inning on the way to a 5-2 White Sox victory. Robust hitting continued, as the team came to be known as The South Side Hit Men and stayed in the pennant race until early September.

View from Box 45, Tier 6, 1990

My next two Opening Days were historically significant: the last one at Comiskey Park in 1990 and the first one at the new Comiskey Park in 1991. Although the ticket stub below states April 2, the last Opening Day at the old ballpark was played on April 9 because of an owners’ lockout that wiped out spring training and pushed back the season by a week. This was only game I attended in a suit and tie, coming from the office and leaving after the 5th inning (the game’s start was delayed by rain, during which the Stones' “Mixed Emotions” and Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" blared on the stadium speakers) to get home for the Passover Seder. I didn’t miss anything, as the Sox held on to a 2-1 lead and beat the Brewers. Thanks to my friend Bill, I also attended the final game at Comiskey Park.

Opening Day 1990 ticket and final 7th inning stretch, 1990

My most memorable Opening Day featured impressions starting before entering the new Comiskey Park. Walking west from the L, the brand-new ballpark loomed on the south side of 35th Street but the opposite side featured an expected but nonetheless tragic sight: the ballpark of my youth being demolished. Only the huge tree with the “RESALE OF TICKETS AT ANY PRICE IS PROHIBITED” sign would remain by the end of the summer (and still stands). My seat was higher than I’d ever sat (Section 535, Row 27, one row from the back) and will ever sit at Sox Park, as that row was eliminated during the renovation after the 2004 season. Regardless of where one sat, it was still disconcerting to watch the Sox in a new venue after so many years across the street and became more so after the Tigers scored 6 runs in the 3rd and 10 runs in the 4th inning on the way to a 16-0 shellacking.

Opening Day 1991 (demolition and first pitch)

I’ve been to eight Opening Day games, the most recent being last season versus the Indians. The game featured what turned out to be the ESPN's Web Gem of the season, when pitcher Mark Buehrle threw out a runner by tossing the ball between his legs to first base. Even more exciting was my only second game of the season, when 10,520 fans showed up in 2005 to see the White Sox wipe out a 3-0 Indians lead in the 9th and win on a Jermaine Dye walk-off home run. The rest of the year, of course, is history.

Opening Day 2010 (scoreboard replay)

As noted, the first game of the baseball season is special because it brings back many unforgettable memories. Those include the treat of getting our uncle’s box seats for a Sunday doubleheader (despite losing 3-1 votes, mom always decided when we were leaving), the first game of the 1959 World Series (, Bill Veeck’s Twins Night (, ditching school on a frigid day and seeing Whitey Ford win his last road victory (, sitting behind the Yankees dugout on a hugely sold-out Bat Day (, taking Marisa to her first Sox game, the last game at Comiskey Park, three walk-off home runs and Game 1 of the World Series in 2005 and Mark Buehrle’s no-hitter and perfect game ( For the last one, Seat 4 next to me sat vacant. As the game reached its exciting finish, I felt my father’s presence there. A transcendent experience, seeing that he hadn’t been to the ballpark in 37 years.

With cousin Jim, Game 1 of the 2005 World Series