From the monthly archives: "July 2014"

 

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Get up. Stand up.

Live music is back at the iconic Wild Hare reggae club.

A two-year battle to present concerts at the Wild Hare, 2600 N. Halsted in Chicago, culminated on July 29 when the club announced a series of free shows to begin on Aug. 1.

The popular Chicago reggae band Gizzae will appear with Dub Dis, Fucha and Friends at 9 p.m. Aug. 1. Indika, Gizzae with vocalist Ugoch, a.k.a. “The African Butterfly,” , Drea, Boombostic and friends will perform at 9 p.m. Aug. 2. A bunch of local musicians will jam out with roots reggae music in a Lollapalooza after party on Sunday, Aug. 3.

Expect live music on Thursdays through Sundays, according to partner Asrat Selassie. He co-founded the original Wild Hare in 1985 at its 3530 N. Clark St. location in the shadow of Wrigley Field.

Over the past two years efforts to obtain a PPA (Public Place of Amusement) license had been denied at least three times by the city.  Alderman Michelle Smith (43rd) said her constituents were concerned about traffic and late live music hours—even though the Wild Hare is just a block north from the Kingston Mines blues club (open until 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday) and B.L.U.E.S.

The Wild Hare had been arguing for the right to have live music since it opened in mid-July, 2012 in a former Notre Dame-themed sports bar.

I bet they weren’t noisy at all.

Nosiree Bob. Marley.

“The city wanted a compromise proposal and our attorney (Thomas R. Raines) advised us we could settle this out of court,” Sellassie said on Tuesday night.

The Wild Hare came up with a compromise and the city accepted it.

The major pivot point was the club’s agreement to end live shows an hour before 2 a.m. closing on all nights but the 3 a.m. Saturday closing. The Wild Hare also is providing free parking validation or voucher for any patron with paid admission for a live concert  at the Home Depot across the street. On other days the lot will offer  $5 discount parking.

The WIld Hare Lounge Room (Courtesy of Wild Hare)

The WIld Hare Lounge Room (Courtesy of Wild Hare)

For the past two years the Wild Hare has been serving Caribbean food and the only music has previously recorded tracks. Don’t miss the authentic pimento wood-smoked jerk with seasoning and pimento imported from Jamaica.

Sellassie said the dragged out court fight cost the Wild Hare “about $100,000.”

Why did the Wild Hare hang in there?

“First, we thought we were right,” he answered. “Second, we had committed to a (5-year) lease. There was no way out of it. We would have lost a lot more if we had just walked out. We didn’t want the Wild Hare to die.”

The Wild Hare is arguably one of the most historic reggae clubs in America.

It is at least important to Chicago’s emerging world culture as a Star Wars museum on prime lakefront property.

Toots and the Maytals, Billy “Caribbean Queen” Ocean and Jimmy Cliff appeared at the Hare. In the late 1990s Lauryn Hill met her future companion Rohan Marley at the Wild Hare after a Fugees concert. Toots and the Maytals headlined the club in 2008.

The club’s first national booking are  The Meditations on Aug. 16. The Meditations laid down background vocals for Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs and others.

The Wild Hare is a point of entry for tourists and Caribbean immigrants to Chicago.

Selassie was born in Ethiopia and came to the United States as a pre-med student in 1973, attending Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. I met him in 1982 when he was drummer of the Ethiopian reggae band Dallol, which played its first show at the Wild Hare & Singing Armadillo Frog Sanctuary–then a country music bar. Selassie and his bandmates took over operation of the Wild Hare in 1985.

About 3,000 Ethiopians live in Chicago, many of them refugees who fled the Communist regime of  Mengistu Haile Mariam (1974-1991).

In late 2012, the Wild Hare delivered to the city a petition of nearly 1,000 signatures of support from across the country. Musicians such as Stephen Marley, Junior Marvin of the Wailers and Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals came out in  support of the Wild Hare’s quest for live music.

The entire club holds 260 people. The 155-seat concert room is smaller than the original Wild Hare’s capacity of 400 people. In order to accommodate neighborhood concerns, soundproofing measures have been taken to a higher level.  A floating three-layer sound proof ceiling has been installed in the music room. A high stage features double curtains including the original velour Wild Hare stage curtain that baffles sound behind the performers.

L to R: Wild Hare partner Joel McCarthy with Stephen Marley (center) and partner Asrat Sellassie this week before Marley's show at the Double Door

L to R: Wild Hare partner Joel McCarthy with Stephen Marley (center) and partner Asrat Selassie this week before Marley’s show at the Double Door

Besides Selassie, current partnership consists of audio engineer Joel McCarthy, Ruphael Woldermariam, who is Gizzae’s keyboardist and William V. Glastris, Jr., a Chicago private equity investor and former concerts director for the A&O Board at Northwestern University. Glastris said, “We tested the sound system to make sure we were good neighbors. We had the city , the alderman, building department and our neighbors in and showed them the work we had done. We were very well received.”

On Wednesday afternoon Mika Stambaugh, Director of Communications for the city’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) said, “A plan of operation is in place to ensure the concerns of the community continue to be addressed. The City Of Chicago is committed to keeping responsible businesses open and healthy throughout all neighborhoods.”

Glastris said, “We are so excited for the artists, local fans and many visitors who have long come to Chicago to see live reggae. We were very fortunate to have so many supporters in Chicago and all over the reggae world who stuck with us and are very thankful that we were able to work out an agreement with the city that was fair and responsive to the needs of the neighborhood.  We are all about harmony – everyone is truly welcome at The Wild Hare. This was a community  effort.

“This weekend is going to be a feel good event.”

Selassie added, “The support was sustaining. At no time did we ever feel alone.”

Greer Stadium, June 2014

NASHVILLE, Tn.—The guitar shaped electronic scoreboard always struck a chord with me.

It was a sweat-crawling evening in 1993 when I saw my first game at Herschel Greer Stadium, the home of the Class AAA Nashville Sounds. The 53-feet tall, 60-feet wide guitar scoreboard offered an immediate sense of where you were.

Music City. Big dreams.

The big ax in center field would be like having a handgun shaped scoreboard in Chicago. Or a parking meter.

On my first visit to Greer I heard about Conway Twitty being a part owner of the Sounds and that resonated with me. I liked country music then more than the pop stuff I hear on the radio today.

Well, now Conway is dead and Greer ain’t feeling too good either.

After 37 years, Greer is making its last call. A new downtown stadium is being built on the historic site of Sulphur Dell (Athletic Park) where baseball was played between 1870 and 1963.

Greer is the third oldest Class AAA ballpark in America, behind McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I. (1942) and Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash. (1960).

Greer is going out quietly. There is not a lot of fanfare and farewell promotions. I planned a late June Nashville trip to get a commemorative Greer Stadium giveaway. Something went wrong in production and I walked away with a Don Mattingly Sounds tee shirt. He played for the Sounds in 1981.

My favorite minor league baseball scoreboard was not up to par. The temperature section of the scoreboard did not work because old parts are hard to find. At one time a Jack Daniel’s logo adorned the pegheads on the neck of the guitar. Now there are yellow smiley faces.

Die-hard locals talk about the ramshackle condition of the stadium (cap. 10,300) as if it were a crazy uncle. Bleacher seats are weather beaten. The concourses are Greer are moldy and rusty. That’s why I find Greer so beautiful.

Everything doesn’t have to be clean and pretty. The best country music is ragged but right.

Honesty was in the air when I visited Greer and that is a good thing.

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I met Farrell Owens, the first Sounds general manager (1978-82). His father Leonard was a Church of Christ minister and Owens speaks with the deep and pure rhythms of a preacher. I met Sounds historian Bill Traughber, a thorough man who sends me background stories in the middle of the night. Memories always come alive in the dark. I watched the game with my brother Doug, who lives in Nashville. We kept score.

For when the One Great Scorer comes

To mark against your name,

He writes – not that you won or lost –

But how you played the Game.”—Grantland Rice.

Doug and I discussed the idea of writing this dispatch in the overly poetic style of Tennessee sportswriter Grantland Rice. It was Grantland who tagged Athletic Park with the name Sulphur Dell. Athletic Park was built in an area known as “Sulphur Springs Bottom” because of a natural sulphur spring.

Sulphur Dell (Courtesy of the Nashville Sounds)

Sulphur Dell (Courtesy of the Nashville Sounds)

“The story goes that in 1908 ‘Dell’ made it easier for him to find words to rhyme with,” Traughber said.

And during my June visit a gentle rain came over Greer towards the end of top Brewer prospect Jimmy Nelson’s 5-0 masterpiece over New Orleans.

Evoking the spirit of Grantland, I told my brother the raindrops were honey-soaked tears in my beer at Greer. He did not walk away.

Before my final game at Greer I met Owens and Traughber in the grandstands behind home plate.

Owens looked out at the stadium and said, “It’s changed some but the guts are the same. We didn’t have suites.”

Owens pointed to a cluster of faded blue seats behind the first base dugout. “We got those seats from the (Fulton-County Stadium) outfield from the Atlanta Braves,” he said.  “We were not a new stadium when we were new. We didn’t have electricity 30 minutes before the game. But people came, drank their beer and ate their hot dogs. We won. Everyone was happy.” Nashville beat Savannah 12-4, even though Sounds relief pitcher Larry Rothschild gave up three runes in one-third of an inning.

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Herschel Greer (1906-1976) was a successful Nashville financier and huge baseball fan. He served as the first president of the Vols, Inc. which kept professional baseball alive in Nashville.

The Vols (Volunteers) were the name of the team that played in Nashville between 1901 and 1963 and included alumni like Kiki Cuyler and future Cincinnati Reds Jim Maloney and Jim O’Toole. Greer Stadium was built for $780,000 in seven months on the site of four church league softball fields.

 

Larry Schmittou was the original owner of the Sounds. He operated the team from its 1978 beginning until 1996 when he retired from minor league baseball. “It was the mid-1990s (1993) when he wanted to do that scoreboard,” Owens said. “At the beginning Larry and I thought we were going to sell enough season tickets and we couldn’t. We decided to form a partnership.”

The major investors included country stars Twitty, Larry Gatiln, Cal Smith, Jerry “Amos Moses” Reed and Richard Sterban (bass singer of the Oak Ridge Boys). This is why they are called the Sounds.

“(Bill Anderson, Dottie West drummer) Snuffy Miller liked the idea,” Owens said. “He talked to Conway about it. Conway loved baseball. Conway said he’d get Cal Smith, the country bumpkin. Know him? Conway took 20 per cent. Conway would call wanting to know what the score was. I don’t know where he was calling from.” Miller retired from the music business and became a bus driver for the Sounds.

Owens said, “Richard Sterban started coming to every game. He kept wanting me to sell my seven and a half per cent. So I sold him two and a half. He was in until this new regime (East Coast real estate developer Frank Ward bought the Sounds after the 2009 season.) A couple years ago the Sounds had a Richard Sterban bobble head night. “National Anthem” guests have included country stars Lorrie Morgan and Boots Randolph.

Sounds fan Barbara Mandrell and Farrell Owens. (Courtesy of Nashville Sounds)

Sounds fan Barbara Mandrell and Farrell Owens. (Courtesy of Nashville Sounds)

 

“Roy Acuff just loved coming here,” Owens continued. . I remember seeing Emmylou Harris and NRBQ’S Joey Spampinato  (who was married to the late Skeeter Davis) sitting behind the Sounds dugout during one visit. “Emmylou is here a lot,” Owens said.

“Barbara Mandrell was here all the time. She’s a sweetheart. Loretta Lynn. Charley Pride (former Negro League player) was here, not as much as the others. We don’t think anything about it. But Jimmy Bragan (late Southern League president) and his brother Bobby would get star struck if they saw country stars in the stands. When we got ready to bring pro ball back to Nashville that really helped us. They would say, ‘Do you know Roy Acuff? We didn’t but after the first pitch we got to know him. It was a place to be seen. Hopefully when we get the new stadium it will get back like that.”

Some beloved ghosts will be left behind at Greer.

Joe “Black Cat” Riley was the colorful type of fan who stands out in the intimacy of ramshackle minor league ballparks. “He went back to Sulphur Dell, selling programs, whatever,” Owens said. “He had some intellectual disabilities. A loveable guy. He thought he could put the black cat on you. When George Steinbrenner came here in 1980 (as a Yankees affiliate) they became instant friends.” Riley told Steinbrenner he always wanted to be a Yankees bat boy. For the next few years Steinbrenner brought Riley to spring training in Florida to serve as the team’s bat boy, wearing the classic pinstripes.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was the Sounds 1980 opening day DH when they were a Yankees affiliate. Showalter was more reserved than he is today and shyly told Owens he was interested in dating a “Soundette” cheerleader named Angela.

They have now been married 31 years.

The new Sulphur Dell stadium will be called First Tennessee Park. It is scheduled to be completed by opening day, 2015. First Tennessee Park is just north of downtown and along the Sulphur Dell banks of the Cumberland River. Ironically, Nashville is a member of the Pacific Coast League.

Sulphur Dell’s right field fence was only 262 feet from home plate and the base of the fence was just 25 feet above the infield. Pitchers called the place “Suffer Hell.” In 1954 future Chicago Cub Bob Lennon hit 64 home runs for the Nashville Vols, establishing a Southern Association record. Lennon, who was left-handed, smacked 42 of his taters at Sulphur Dell.

Farrell Owens, June 2014 (D. Hoekstra photo)

Farrell Owens, June 2014 (D. Hoekstra photo)

Owens, 70, grew up going to games at the Dell. “I thought every field was 262 to right and had a dump in right field,” he said. The sulphur spring beyond right field was stinky but that didn’t prevent residents from filling up buckets of spring water for medicinal purposes. Hee-Haw!

“We heard stories that when Babe Ruth came here they wouldn’t let him play right field.,” Owens said. “They moved him to left. My Dad would hold summer time revivals to get us through school, buy our clothes I guess. The revivals would start at the same time the ball game did. But when church was over, we’d go to Sulphur Dell. Because you could always get in by the seventh inning stretch. It was free. I remember hearing Jim Maloney throwing the ball. You could hear the pop in the catcher’s mitt on the radio.”

Archaeologists are monitoring the building of the new ball park.

Earlier this year Native American pottery, ceramics and animal bones were discovered while unearthing the site. No human remains have been found. First Tennessee Park is not the first baseball stadium to be built on an ancient burial ground. Many reports say Wrigley Field is “an ivy-covered burial ground,” as late Chicago songwriter Steve Goodman put it in “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.”

No one is sure what will happen to the dying guitar scoreboard at Greer. It was estimated to cost nearly $1 million to move and restore it to the new stadium. But a new, 4,200- high definition scoreboard will be featured at First Tennessee Park. It will be one of the largest scoreboards in minor league baseball.

“That is an  absolute must,” Toronto pitcher and Nashville native R.A. Dickey said in the Nashville Tennessean. “I might have boycotted all future games if they changed it. I grew up with that scoreboard. So many great memories.” Shredders unite. As Grantland Rice might write, it’s a new highway to Dell.

 

 

 

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Jim Brosnan pitched for the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. He was a fearless craftsman. He once struck out Willie Mays three times in one game. Between 1956 and 1963 Mr. Brosnan compiled a lifetime ERA of 3.54. He was also a splendid writer.

In the summer of 2004 I took Mr.  Brosnan to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Chicago-based publisher Ivan R. Dee had just reissued Mr.Brosnan’s groundbreaking 1959 diary “The Long Season” and 1962’s “The Pennant Race.” These honest accounts of the game and the business of baseball would become the template for best sellers like Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” and Bill Veeck’s “Veeck as in Wreck.”

Writing is not the best way to make money.

I told him if he played baseball today he would be a multi-millionaire.

“Quitting didn’t bother me,” he said. “I was a writer. I was going to be a writer.”

Conviction is  the first step to being a writer. Incongruity is the second step. Humility isn’t bad either. Mr. Brosnan touched all those bases with dignity and eloquence.

Mr. Brosnan died June 28 of complications from a stroke in Park Ridge, according to the July 4 New York Times.com.  He was 84. His passing has been ignored by Chicago media.

Mr. Brosnan quietly kept notes on a pad while sitting in the bullpen during a game. He never showed his manuscripts to anybody. Not even his roommates. Besides writing books, Mr. Brosnan wrote book reviews for the New York Times and the Chicago Daily News. For 25 years he was the baseball writer for Boy’s Life magazine. In the spring of 1968 he wrote articles for the Chicago Tribune magazine like “Moe Drabowsky Leads the League in Supernonproductive Outs,” and the eternally hopeful “Bonehead Baseball is Out, Out, Out at Wrigley Field.”

On road trips Mr Brosnan would pack books by Dostoevsky (not Drabowsky) and John Updike. He also carried a blue-gray 1960s portable Olivetti typewriter.

The typewriter broke in early 2004 when it fell off a shelf. He did not own a computer. He did not have e-Mail. Mr. Brosnan said he stopped writing after his typewriter went down. I wish I had made the effort to stay in touch with him.

Jim Brosnan (Associated Press photo)

Jim Brosnan (Associated Press photo)

Mr. Brosnan liked to zig when the others zagged. He was friends with S.I. Hayakawa, who was teaching at the University of Chicago in the mid-1950s. Hayakawa, who died in 1992, moved to San Francisco in 1955 and was later elected to the U.S. Senate from California.

“In 1958 I was with the Reds and we were in San Francisco,” Mr. Brosnan told me as we watched Cubs pitcher Mark Prior (Mr. Brosnan complained about Prior bugging the plate umpire for missing pitches.)  “He [Hayakawa] calls me on the telephone and says we’re going to see [jazz great] Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines. He was a big baseball fan, too. I gave him a baseball cap.”

This, of course, is before ball players were addicted to Game Boys.

Mr. Brosnan’s book collection included all of Ogden Nash’s poetry books and the entire 17-volume edition of Mark Twain’s writings, which he inherited from his wife’s family.

In 1958 Mr. Brosnan wrote a diary piece about his season with the Cardinals. He sent the story to a new magazine called Sports Illustrated. An editor at Harper & Row saw the article and asked the pitcher if he could expand his text. “Win or lose, it didn’t make any difference to him,” Mr. Brosnan said. A good editor is about latitude.

And with that, the seeds of “The Long Season” were planted.

The baseball community did not like the book. Cardinals broadcaster Joe Garagiola called Mr. Brosnan a “cooky beatnik.” Mr. Brosnan’s St. Louis manager Solly Hemus offered this blurb: “You think Brosnan’s writing was funny? Wait until you see him pitch.’ Future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson  nicknamed Mr. Brosnan “The Professor,” due in part to his Coke-bottle glasses.

In “The Long Season” Mr. Brosnan wrote about scheming with fellow pitcher and future Cub Ernie Broligio on how they would soft toss to each other so they could get some base hits. Mr. Brosnan was called into Commissioner Ford Frick’s office for that passage. Frick wanted to ban “The Long Season.”

Writers loved “The Long Season.” Iconic New York columnist Red Smith wrote, “A cocky book, caustic and candid, and in  way courageous…he doesn’t hesitate to name names and employ ridicule like a stiletto.”

Mr. Brosnan was born on the west side of Cincinnati. His Irish father John was a lathe operator at the Cincinnati Milling Machine Co. His German mother Elizabeth was a piano teacher and nurse. Between the ages of 10 and 15 Mr. Brosnan divided his time between ball fields and the library. “I read whatever my mother told me to read,” he told me. “Until I got a hold of Joseph Altsheler’s early 1900s novels. Nowadays, I can’t find him in the Morton Grove, Evanston or Niles library. From him, I learned how to distinguish the good words from the bad words. I learned about voice.”

Mr. Brosnan learned how to develop his conversational, yet direct style. He liked James Thurber. The only baseball-related momento Mr. Brosnan kept in his house was a Thurber sketch of a baseball catcher that he hung in his bathroom. Thurber had invited Mr. Brosnan to be a guest on his Sunday talk show in New York City.

Mr. Brosnan learned new word by playing crossword puzzles.

He liked one sentence paragraphs.

Mr. Brosnan saw the writing in the wall in 1963 when the Reds shipped him to the White Sox for the weirdly named pitcher Dom Zanni. “When I arrived at the airport, [Sox general manager] Ed Short met me and said, “You can’t write here either. Period.  I was hoping for a little better welcome than that. I responded with a four-letter word that begins with ‘F.’Hey, by that time I had sold two pieces, one to Atlantic Monthly and the other to Sport magazine.”

In March, 1964 the American Civil Liberties Union intervened and accused the White Sox of violating Mr. Brosnan’s rights. Short offered  Mr. Brosnan another contract in the spring of 1964 that included a drop in salary and a formal ban on writing without approval of management.

Mr. Brosnan retired from baseball.

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Mr. Bronsan and I stayed for the entire game on a sunny summer afternoon. The old 6’4″ pitcher had trouble standing up for the seventh-inning stretch. He grabbed a box seat for support. He had endured two knee replacement operations. I brought Mr. Brosnan’s “Pennant Race” to the game.  I leaned over and read Mr. Brosnan one of my favorite passages:

To get to [Cincinnati’s] Crosley Field, I usually take a bus through the old, crumbling streets of the Bottoms. Blacks stand on the corners watching their homes fall down. The insecurity of being in the second division of the National League–in the cellar-leaves me. For 25 cents, the bus ride gives me enough humility to get me through any baseball game, or season.”

Mr. Brosnan fidgeted in his seat. He looked away and then looked at me.

“That was one of the best writing days I ever had,” he said of that passage. “I finished that about 5 in the morning. Writing it over and over, trying to get in everything I felt, but also to stick it in somewhere. We were going to play a lot of games.”

Mr. Brosnan saw things in life that others missed.

His measured sense of perception is what made him a gifted pitcher and a precious writer.

Mr. Brosnan’s wife of  62 years– Ann Pitcher–true–died last year. They lived together for 58 years in the same house in Morton Grove. He is survived by children Jamie, Tim and Kimberlee, a brother Michael and four grandchildren.

A memorial visitation will be at  Simkins Funeral Home, 6251 Dempster St. Morton Grove, Sunday, July 20th from 1 p.m. until  4 p.m. memorial service.  In lieu of flowers, donations to Paralyzed Veterans of America 801 18th St. NW Washington, D.C. 20006.