Shortstops: Jeter and Bogaerts

So maybe it is premature to mention Derek Jeter and Xander Bogaerts in the same breath, but I can’t resist.  Jeter just announced that this coming season will be his last and Bogaerts is preparing for his first full season.  But there is something about them that seems to be to be so similar.  Maybe it has to do with demeanor.  Maybe it is just being Red Sox fan hopeful.  Whatever it is, I was struck by the comparison.

Derek Jeter is the Yankee that even Red Sox fans admire.  Tyler Kepner wrote in the New York Times about his retirement.

The greatest compliment we can give Derek Jeter, as he prepares to leave the grandest stage in baseball, is that he never let us down. He has made thousands of outs and hundreds of errors and finished most of his seasons without a championship. Yet he never disappointed us.

This is no small feat for the modern athlete, in an age of endless traps and temptations.

From cheating to preening to taunting — even to defensible acts, like fleeing to a new team in free agency — the hero, almost invariably, breaks our heart sometime. Not Jeter.

He grew up beside a baseball diamond in Kalamazoo, Mich., dreaming of playing shortstop for the Yankees, and that is what he has done. He has never played another position, never been anything but No. 2 for the Yankees. But this season, he announced Wednesday, will be his last.

“The one thing I always said to myself was that when baseball started to feel more like a job, it would be time to move forward,” Jeter said in a statement on Facebook, adding later: “I could not be more sure. I know it in my heart. The 2014 season will be my last year playing professional baseball.”

Derek Jeter in 2008 after breaking Lou Gehrig’s mark with his 1,270th hit at Yankee Stadium

Derek Jeter in 2008 after breaking Lou Gehrig’s mark with his 1,270th hit at Yankee Stadium

If Frank Sinatra were around, he could sing “My Way” at Jeter’s retirement.

Jeter is perhaps the most secure, self-confident player in baseball, a sharp contrast to the disgraced Alex Rodriguez, whose season-long suspension means that he will never again be teammates with Jeter. Groch [Dick Groch, the scout who signed Jeter] said he noticed these traits while scouting Jeter, who smiled under pressure and showed the leadership skills of a chief executive.

Derek Jeter always knew who he was and never acted out of character.

And what of the Red Sox rookie?  Xander Bogaerts, the kid from Aruba who speaks four languages (Dutch, English, Spanish, and Papiamento [the official language of Aruba]) also grew up playing baseball.  Even though he was called up last August, he remains eligible for rookie of the year for 2014.  Peter Abraham profiled him in today’s Boston Globe.

Xander Bogaerts took a few ground balls at third base last Friday. That ended when Red Sox manager John Farrell arrived at JetBlue Park over the weekend.

“He told me to go to shortstop and not to worry about third base,” Bogaerts said Wednesday after a lengthy workout. “I hope that means something good for me.”

As it stands today, Bogaerts is the shortstop. But that could change if the Red Sox sign Stephen Drew, who remains a free agent on the eve of spring training officially opening. Until Drew signs, Bogaerts can’t be sure exactly what role he’ll have.

“Nobody has said anything to me about it,” Bogaerts said. “It’s definitely not perfect, but I have to play baseball no matter what. I can’t worry about it too much. I’m working at shortstop every day and trying to get my reps in and get ready.”

I think the Sox need to forget Drew, even if he is a great fielder, and go with Pedroia, Middlebrooks and Bogaerts. Time to see how the kids do.

Xander Bogaerts during the ALCS vs. Detroit

Xander Bogaerts during the ALCS vs. Detroit

We will need to see how he matures but Bogaerts seems, so far, to be cast in a Jeter mold.

But with players now on the field, Sox officials have been more measured with their comments about Drew and seem ready to start the season with Bogaerts at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at third base.

That the two arrived at camp early and have been working hard with infield coach Brian Butterfield doesn’t hurt their chances.

The 21-year-old Bogaerts is certain to make the team regardless. He hit .250 in 18 regular-season games last year before emerging as a starter in the postseason. Bogaerts started eight games in October, entering the lineup for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series and staying there.

Bogaerts was 8 for 27 (.296) in the postseason with four extra-base hits and nine runs scored. Teammates marveled at how unaffected he was by the atmosphere.

“I learned so much about the game last year, the preparation you need,” Bogaerts said. “The other teams will find your weakness right away. I need to get better at everything, especially recognizing pitches. But I know I can do it.”

Last October, Joon Lee wrote a long profile of Bogaerts for Red Sox blog, Over the Monster.  One quote stood out for me.

“I’ve always been a pretty quiet guy,” Xander said. “I don’t really go out a lot so I try to stay out of the most trouble as possible. Nothing good happens at night so that’s why it’s good to stay at home.”

Not a wild and crazy guy.  Yes, I know, Jeter didn’t exactly stay at home, but he never talked about his personal life.

Derek Jeter and Xander Bogaerts:  The past and the future?  We shall see.

Photograph:  Jeter, Barton Silverman/The New York Times

Photograph: Bogaerts, Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

Remembering Maxine Kumin

When I read that Maxine Kumin had died, I went to the bookcase where we keep a lot of our poetry and found my copy of  Our Groundtime Here Will Be Brief .  Here is one of my favorites.  (Text from Page 71)

LATE SNOW

It’s frail, this spring snow, it’s pot cheese
packing down underfoot. It flies out of the trees
at sunrise like a flock of migrant birds.
It slips in clumps off the barn roof,
wingless angels dropped by parachute.
Inside, I hear the horses knocking
aimlessly in their warm brown lockup,
testing the four known sides of the box
as the soul must, confined under the breastbone.
Horses blowing their noses, coming awake,
shaking the sawdust bedding out of their coats.
They do not know what has fallen
out of the sky, colder than apple bloom,
since last night’s hay and oats.
They do not know how satisfactory
they look, set loose in the April sun,
nor what handsprings are turned under
my ribs with winter gone.

late snow

Maxine Kumin was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and once served as the consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress or Poet Laureate as the position is now know.  The New York Times obituary recounts her struggles after an accident left her with a severe spinal injury,

One of her most talked-about works of nonfiction was her memoir, “Inside the Halo and Beyond” (2000), a book born of swift, deep adversity.

An accomplished horsewoman, Ms. Kumin was training for a carriage-driving show in 1998 when her horse was spooked by a passing truck. She was thrown from the carriage, which weighed 350 pounds; the horse then pulled the carriage over her. She suffered serious internal injuries, 11 broken ribs and a broken neck.

A doctor told her afterward that 95 percent of patients with her injuries die; of those who survive, 95 percent remain quadriplegic.

Ms. Kumin spent months encased in a cervical-traction halo.

“Imagine a bird cage big enough for a large squawking parrot,” she wrote. “Imagine a human head inside the cage fastened by four titanium pins that dig into the skull. The pins are as sharp as ice picks.”

She was sustained, she later said, by her family (her daughter Judith typed the spoken words that became the memoir); by her beloved Boston Red Sox; and by the reams of poems she harbored within her. After a grueling rehabilitation, Ms. Kumin regained most of her mobility and even rode horses again, though she lived with chronic pain to the end of her life.

The New York Times also discusses her belief in the sound of poetry.

The stylistic hallmarks of her poetry include carefully calibrated rhythms; frequent, often witty use of rhyme, near-rhyme and assonance (also called vowel rhyme); and clean, unadorned diction.

Ms. Kumin was such an evangelist for the sound of poetry that she exhorted her students — she taught at Tufts, New England College, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and elsewhere — to memorize 30 to 40 lines of it a week.

“The other reason, as I tell their often stunned faces, is to give them an internal library to draw on when they are taken political prisoner,” she told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans in 2000. “For many, this is an unthinkable concept; they simply do not believe in anything fervently enough to go to jail for it.”

Ms. Kumin was herself a great memorizer, and in her work one can hear the faint, benevolent echoes of the poets she drank in as a child: Gerard Manley Hopkins, A. E. Housman, Marianne Moore and others.

That’s a challenge – 30 to 40 lines of poetry a week!  Good mental exercise for those of us with aging memories.  I’ll start with “Late Snow” and maybe I will know it by April.

Photograph:  Christian Science Monitor

Kids and guns

Yesterday a nine year old boy was shot by his fourteen year old brother.  It is an old story here in Boston as well as throughout the country.  After every death, officials, neighbors, clergy vow “Never again.”  But it does happen again.  And again. We don’t know exactly what happened in that apartment in Mattapan, but there are some things we need to look at and questions we need to answer.  The Boston Globe story has some of the details.

In what police described as a horrific tragedy, a 9-year-old boy was shot and killed in his family’s Mattapan apartment by his 14-year-old brother Friday morning, anguishing neighbors and prompting a plea from the city’s mayor for residents to surrender unwanted guns.

Just before noon on a school day, the older brother was playing with a gun when it fired, striking the younger boy in the chest, police said. The boy was rushed to Boston Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The older boy left his Morton Street home, but was apprehended nearby still carrying the weapon police said was used to shoot his brother.

Question one:  Why weren’t the kids in school?  At least one of the schools left a message that the child was not in school, but the mother evidently wasn’t home.

Police investigating the fatal shooting of a Mattapan boy outside the Morton Street home where he was shot.

Police investigating the fatal shooting of a Mattapan boy outside the Morton Street home where he was shot.

Authorities charged the 14-year-old with unlawful gun possession and involuntary manslaughter, saying that he was handling the gun recklessly when it fired.

There was no evidence that anyone else in the home knew he had the gun, they said.

Authorities were quick to call the shooting an apparent accident, but homicide detectives continued their investigation Friday.

But was it an accident?  I’m not so sure.

Last June, police responded to the same address for a domestic violence report in which the 14-year-old allegedly slapped his younger brother in the face and threw him to the ground. His older teenage sister told police that he then pushed his mother to the ground and threatened to kill her.

In a police report on that visit, the sister stated the brother had “been very aggressive toward the family lately and that this was not the first time the police were called to their residence.”

The mother also told police that it was “not the first time” she had problems with her 14-year-old, according to the report. The older brother was charged with assault in the June incident.

Neighbors and police also said that officers had been previously called to the three-decker on Morton Street because of loud parties and, in one case, a shooting.

Question two:  Why were there no places to which the police could refer the boy?  We know that the Massachusetts Department for Children and Families is under a lot of scrutiny right now but we also know that generally the social workers are underpaid and overworked.  I expect that the independent study of DCF will show this.  DCF has refused comment on this incident.

At the scene, Mayor Martin J. Walsh called the death a tragedy and urged residents to turn in guns to police.

“A 14-year-old should not have access to a gun,” he said. “There are far too many guns in our streets.”

“I’m calling for the community to step up to the plate and report these guns. Parents, siblings — we need to get these guns off the street,” he added.

Daniel Conley, the Suffolk district attorney, said investigators would work to determine how the boy acquired the weapon.

“In the meantime, I want to make something crystal clear: If you know about an illegal firearm in this city, help us prevent another tragedy like this one,” he said.

Even my own state representative, Gloria Fox, called for tighter gun control measures.  Massachusetts already has some of the stricter laws, but this doesn’t seem to have really dealt with the problem.

Question 3:  Mayor Walsh has talked about treatment for all victims of gun and street violence.  Why didn’t he use this opportunity to call for more programs instead of asking people to turn in their weapons?

Yes, guns are a problem, but what troubles me about this incident is that there were clear warning signs.  We don’t know yet if there was any attempt at intervention, but I wonder if a nine-year old really had to die.

Photograph:  David L Ryan/Globe Staff

Ms. G. predicts more winter

Groundhog Day.  February 2.  For some reason that groundhog in Pennsylvania gets all the press even though I’m not sure how he can predict the weather for the entire country.  But Massachusetts has Ms. G.  According to New England Cable News

Ms. G. predicts more winter.

Ms. G. predicts more winter.

Massachusetts has its own groundhog to make predictions about the weather on Groundhog Day.

Both Punxsutawney Phil and Ms. G, the Mass. groundhog, saw their shadows this year. Legend has it; this means that there will be six more weeks of winter.

“We don’t feel like Punxsutawney Phil has much sway here in Massachusetts. I mean, we wouldn’t use a weather forecaster from Pennsylvania to tell us our local weather,” said Tia Penney of a Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary.

Dozens of families gathered at the sanctuary on Sunday to witness Ms. G give her forecast. But, not everyone was happy with her prediction.

“I didn’t see the shadow and I wanted spring to be here, cause then, after spring, there is no school,” said Asia Faline, a Wellesley school student.
Blue Hill Weather Observatory says Ms. G is correct in her forecast 60% of the time.

So what is the origin of Groundhog Day?  Is there any science to it?  Today EarthSky news told us everything you always wanted to know about this important day.  Here are some of the interesting facts.

We all know the rules of Groundhog Day.  On February 2, a groundhog is said to forecast weather by looking for his shadow.  If it’s sunny out, and he sees it, we’re in for six more weeks of winter.  On the other hand, a cloudy Groundhog Day is supposed to forecast an early spring.

What you might not know is that Groundhog Day is really an astronomical holiday.  It’s an event that takes place in Earth’s orbit around the sun, as we move between the solstices and equinoxes.  In other words, Groundhog Day falls more or less midway between the December solstice and the March equinox.  Each cross-quarter day is actually a collection of dates, and various traditions celebrate various holidays at this time.  February 2 is the year’s first cross-quarter day.

In the ancient Celtic calendar, the year is also divided into quarter days (equinoxes and solstices) and cross-quarter days on a great neopagan wheel of the year.  Thus, just as February 2 is marked by the celebration of Candlemas by some Christians, such as the Roman Catholics, in contemporary paganism, this day is called Imbolc and is considered a traditional time for initiations.

The celebration of Groundhog Day came to America along with immigrants from Great Britain and Germany.  The tradition can be traced to early Christians in Europe, when a hedgehog was said to look for his shadow on Candlemas Day.

Try this old English rhyme:  If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight.  But if it be dark with clouds and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.

So even though it has now turned a little cloudy here in Boston, the sun was out this morning and Ms. G. says more winter.  In fact,  I think the prediction is for snow on Wednesday.

Photograph is a still from the NECN story.