(please click to enlarge most photos)
Here at DSL (dorpatsherrardlomont) this may be our first Sports Report. We cannot be certain, for although we often do “look back” with this blog, just now we are not inclined to search our own archive. (My how such contradictions continue to pester us!)
Whatever, this is the story of the annual “The Old Ball Game,” also known as the EEE for the “Eskenazi-Eals Extravaganza,” which the founder will explain soon below. Actually, the beginning is remembered vividly. “The Old Ball Game” it is still too young to have a myth of origins. That requires time – three generations, at least.
Our First Sports Report starts with co-founder David Eskenazi’s appreciation for EEE’s “founder’s-founder” Clay Eals. In this we use David to introduce Clay’s longer reminiscence, which follows. Interspersed will be a variety of photographs – some of them with captions – snapped from this year’s game by Jean Sherrard. And Clay is searching for scenes from earlier ball games as well.
The biggest illustration will be of the post-game player’s-pose last Sunday July 26 at the Alki Playfield. We include with its annotated caption something revealing about the performance of every player. Interspersed in this report are photos of David depicting recent honors that have come his way in his important role as Seattle’s baseball historian.
EEE HISTORY INTRODUCED
by David Eskenazi
Upon discovering that our birthdays are within (tobacco-less) spitting distance of each other, ultimate idea man/baseball nut Clay Eals dreamt up EEE. The mix and overlap of Eals and Eskenazi friends and family has made for some truly fun times on a given Sunday every late July over the last 8-9 years (Clay might know the actual number of years).
Clay is marvelous, of course, a true renaissance man, and one of my favorite people of all time. As you know, Clay has a singular zest in all that he does, work and play, and great warmth for the people in his life. He has that wonderful ability to draw everyone into his Clayness, and it is manifest at our softball shindig. He also laughs at ALL of my jokes and mimicry…no small factor in our friendship. Let’s face it, Clay is clearly the best. Sweet lefty stroke, too.
THE MORE OFTEN IT HAPPENS,
THE MORE IT STAYS THE SAME
By Clay Eals
It’s not called The Old Ball Game for nothing — one of the coolest things about it is that you can be quite old and still play the game. This was borne out on Sunday, July 26, at a 10th all-comers softball event, now hyperbolically called the EEE (Eskenazi-Eals Extravaganza), at Alki Playfield not far from my home in beautiful West Seattle.
The original idea for this was to create an unusual, if not unique, gathering that would appeal to nearly everyone, player or non. The ostensible purpose is to celebrate my birthday, but the real intent is to deflect attention from that and serve instead as a vehicle for an amiable group of family, friends and acquaintances to throw, catch and bat a few garage-sale softballs for an hour or two — or to just shoot the breeze from the sidelines.
My inspiration came from the summers of 1978-80, when I helped lead the Growers Market team in the co-ed Eugene (Oregon) Community Softball League, more affectionately known as the hippie league. This troupe introduced me to noncompetitive softball. No balls or strikes; you batted until you hit the ball into fair territory. The job of the pitcher, therefore, was to serve up the ball so it could be hit.
The result: no strikeouts and no real failure. Men and women alternated in the field. We didn’t keep score or standings. We had a non-commissioner. At the end, for tradition’s sake, we had a tournament called the We’re All Serious (a take-off on World Series). Beautiful stuff. Smiles and laughter all around.
This was about the time I was learning — and indoctrinating neighborhood kids in — the concept of New Games, in which winning was supplanted by participation and enjoyment. The idea was a no-brainer: Games should be fun, not anxiety-inducing and failure-ridden. It took me a couple of decades, but eventually I envisioned the concept as a perfect template for a non-birthday celebration.
The inaugural all-comers birthday softball game took place in July 1999. I was out of town during my birthday week in 2000, but I revived the event in 2001 (my 50th birthday), and it has been a tradition ever since.
Dave Eskenazi, a good friend and perhaps best characterized as the Paul Dorpat of Seattle baseball history, joined me as a co-conspirator in 2002. Our partnership is a classic case of the cosmic forces aligning, since our birthdays fall just one day apart.
The M.O. for the event is pretty simple. Reserve a field (in Seattle you can’t do it more than two weeks in advance, but lucky for us Alki Playfield isn’t in high demand). Invite as many people as you can think of (the list has now grown to several hundred). Request their “presence, not presents” (the wordsmith in me loves that). The day before, make a big batch of chocolate/butterscotch-chip cookies (food is a good lure). The day of, buy some pop, water and ice and throw them into a cooler. Load the car with stray chairs and a folding table or two. Bring along a bunch of bats, balls, and mitts, even hats. Head down to Alki an hour before. Unload the car. Essentially, “Build it, and they will come.”
And they do, every year. Who are “they”? That’s the beauty of it. The invitation specifically states that no RSVPs are needed, so who shows up is always a surprise. With an invitee list of some 300 people and a ton of other attractions on people’s minds on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon, usually about 20-30 show up, enough for two teams. And as the saying goes, a good time is had by all. Once the game is over, we repack the car. Then whoever is willing walks to Christo’s along the beach for a pizza dinner/celebration.
There is a little pomp along the way. Back in 1991, at Northwest Folklife Festival, my wife, Meg, and I attended a baseball panel that began with an astonishing feat: local pianist extraordinaire David Mahler playing “the two baseball songs everybody knows the best” simultaneously. With one hand, he played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and with the other “The Star Spangled Banner.” Flawlessly. The rest of the hour-long panel also was wonderful, but that first song/medley/combo (what’s the right name for it?) was jaw-dropping. I asked David after the panel if it were being recorded, he said yes, and he kindly offered to copy it for me. A few days later, in the mail came the dub. At the opening of each EEE softball game, I play this tape on a boom box for the assembled multitude, and Mahler’s two-minute masterpiece never fails to elicit grins.
Usually the biggest smiles come, however, upon seeing the oldest and the youngest among us participating on the field with glee and gusto. Countless times have we been witness to pint-sized kids batting and fielding with far more heart than anyone in the bigs.
And to see stalwarts cavorting on the beachfront ball field — like Paul Dorpat, who gamely volunteered to pitch last Sunday in 80-degree heat — is an equal thrill. (Paul told me during the game that as a youth he was an ace fastpitch hurler. His skill at consistently getting the ball within hitting range Sunday supplied vivid proof of his claim.)
Usually I try to shoot a few photos, including a group photo, sometime during this escapade, but this year’s EEE produced an added surprise — the presence of ace photographer (Paul’s “Now” compadre), the Tall Guy himself, Jean Sherrard. Because of Jean’s skill and enthusiasm, we all are able to visually enjoy the event’s aftermath. (I wonder how far we fielders would have had to sprint to chase down one of his fly balls had he elected to bat!)
If any of this depiction inspires others to mount a similarly warm and wacky celebration, I will be, to use one of Emmett Watson’s favorite words, ebullient. (Imagine Emmett’s low, jowly voice saying the word, and you’ll understand what I mean.) And if you’re intrigued to see for yourself what it’s all about, please e-mail me at email@example.com so that I can get you on the invitation list for next year’s EEE.
Writers wax poetic about baseball more than any other sport. For proof, just check the sports section of your local bookstore. And there’s a reason for that. Baseball is circular and symbolic like few other well-known pursuits. For some, baseball (and yes, softball) embodies life itself. Played with a welcoming, all-comers tone, it approaches the sublime. What other endeavor can guarantee to bring people together, move our bodies, lift our spirits, spark our smiles and earn the affectionate moniker of The Old Ball Game?
See you next year!
THE 2009 TEN ANNIVERSARY GROUP SHOT with ANNOTATED CAPTION
SOFTBALL POST-GAME GROUPS POSE
Top (or back) row, from the left:
* Mark Waldstein (Great confidence and equipment and best T-Shirt on the field.)
* Noel Bourasaw (Pitcher on first-time loan from the Skagit River Journal. Managed three hits as well, but elected not to run. Also gave color commentary throughout the game, and did not complain about the heat.)
* Noel Sherrard (No relation but still profoundly Noel. Played well all-around and was considered for most valuable player. Good looking.)
* Barb Harmell (Did not play but guarded the refreshments.)
* Ken Harmell (In black shirt with nametag. This most honest of the players, except when pretending he was a lefty in the batter’s box, he wore neither cleats nor hair oil.)
* Ellen Eskenazi Kern (Powerful swing – see accompanying photo – like many others a relative of the Most Valuable Player trophy winner. Only player to wear an orange hat.)
* Tab Melton (Left-hander with a borrowed catcher’s mitt while giving up his own to this pitcher and who caught for both sides and called for slow pitches only. Tab entertained this pitcher with his insightful descriptions of batters who failed to safely reach first base.)
* Michael Goings (Sunday’s Canadian from Calgary, he caught every ball hit to him and generally shined at hitting the lower pitches as well, as any Canadian raised on hockey should.)
* Sophie Goings (Did not play but strikes the best pose on her father’s shoulders. Was mistakenly considered for most improved player.)
* Natalie Stephens. (Dressed for dancing. Did not play by choice. Only appears to be wearing Canadian clothes while standing with Canadians. Actually friend of Ray Barnhart, smiling second from the right, bottom row. Dressed for dancing.)
* Paul Dorpat (Top-of-the-inning pitcher in need of a haircut. Didn’t get a hit, but never stood at the plate. Nervous about the opposing pitcher’s control.)
* David Eskenazi (Seattle’s baseball historian and event co-founder. See his accompanying comments and/or confessions. His game was bittersweet, hitting three towering flies to the outfield, all of them caught by his son.)
* Joe Eskenazi (Son of David and Sharon. Won this year’s Most Valuable Player – MVP – award and carried away the trophy for a year. Won it on the combination of his hitting, fielding and attitude. Played hardball catch with his father following the game. Actual hardball catch, practicing throwing knucklers! It is frankly hard to see how Joe can be denied the MVP any year he wants it, and it should not seem surprising when scouts soon find their way to the green fields of Alki.)
* Michael Eskenazi (Another family wonder, but this time with the jazz/blues acoustic guitar he holds in place of bat and glove. Accompanied this year’s game and refreshments.)
* Andrew Torres (A torrent of tremendous enthusiasm for the game and a willingness to swing at every pitch.)
* Sharon Eskenazi (Dave’s wife and Joe and Michael’s mother, amazed how well Michael can play the guitar after only two years of practice.)
* Barb Couden-Ochs, Steffen Ochs, Erma Couden (holding bat) and Bob Gee. (Mid-game arrivals, representing the Southwest Seattle Historical Society. Erma is the widow of SWSHS founder Elliott Couden, Barb is Erma’s daughter, Steffen is Barb’s husband and Bob is Erma’s loyal companion. Barb and Steffen win the honor of attending from farthest away – as visitors from Australia. When not playing or chalking the lines, this quartet encouraged both teams with polite applause.)
Bottom (or front) row, from the left
* Clay Eals (Event co-founder, and strong contender this year for the MVP award. Although an accompanying photo shows smiling Clay presenting the award to Joe Eskenazi, he could not have helped feeling a little deprived considering his home run, which helped his team amass a commanding lead that in the late innings evaporated into a tie. Other game snapshots show Eals’ powerful frame a split second after he has connected for his round-tripper and then reaching home plate at the exciting moment the ball lands in catcher Tab Melton’s borrowed glove, but too late to tag Eals. Eals’ speed has carried him past Ellen Eskenazi, who scored before him and here seems to be attempting to distract Melton.)
* Meg Eals (Clay’s wife who pinch-hit for Clay and just missed reaching first base safely on a tapped hit that reminded Barb Couden-Ochs, Steffen Ochs, Erma Couden and Bob Gee of the Seattle Mariners’ leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki’s finesse in placing soft hits. They acknowledged Meg’s attempt with another polite applause.)
* Emily Harmell (The only player to wear an orange shirt and strongly considered for the MVP on the basis of her style at the plate and fearless pursuit of the ball on the field. Soon to enter the U-Dub but promises to return to this event annually. Very promising.)
* Aaron Kern (Almost universally mistaken for Joe Eskenazi. Also has Joe’s compact swing and his – Aaron’s – mother Ellen’s as well. Still this player can’t get an even break, and yet he may well be the one to some day make it to the biggies. Watch out.)
* Nevaeh Harmell (Did not play by decision of her parents, Barb and Ken.)
* Sylvia Kern (Did not play by decision of her parents, Ellen and Michael.)
* Michael Kern (Father of Sylvia. Michael did play, but is that fair?)
* Sarah Eskenazi (Redhead and keeper of the trophy. Here the trophy is still in Sarah’s protection, because the group portrait was taken before the award was given. How one behaves during the taking of the portrait is figured into the MVP decision.)
* Ray Barnhart (Always affable, Ray was an inspiration to everyone – players and groundskeepers. It is generally believed that it was by Ray’s kind ways that the final score was a tie, and the event’s tradition of no losers or winners upheld. This was especially important this year – the first year that score was kept.)
* Nan Goings (Married a Canadian. Moved from the heat of Oklahoma and the wet of Washington. This sister of Sarah and Ellen is another reason to include the Canadian National Anthem in next year’s meeting to play ball at Alki Playfield, from where on a clear day one can see as far north as Canada.)
MORE FROM CLAY EALS
We asked Clay to send us photos of past EEE Ballgames and he kindly obliged, forwarding the treasures below. Each image is accompanied by his comments: