Centerfield

“Put me in coach, I’m ready to play, today

Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today

Look at me, I can be centerfield.”

 

I’ve heard John Fogarty’s “Centerfield” about 20 times in the past two weeks. Fogarty, lead singer of the Creedence Clearwater Revival, wrote a great song. It has become one of baseball’s anthems along with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Spring is here, and spring and baseball are synonymous with a renewal of hope. Here in New England, expectations are high for this version of the Boston Red Sox, which are favorites to win their division and possibly get to the World Series. The pitching should be better, but my fear, and we long-term Sox fans always have one or more fears, is that they will be unable to make up for the loss of David Ortiz. Ortiz’s strong hitting and leadership will be very difficult to replace.

Locally, it is also “next year” for the Chatham Anglers. The Cape Cod Baseball League returns in June and I called my friend Steve West to ask about this year’s team. Steve is president of the Chatham Athletic Association which sponsors the Anglers. Cape Cod Baseball League teams recruit college baseball players and a new season brings a new roster for each of the 10 Cape League teams. Steve said the Anglers’ manager John Schiffner confers with college coaches and scouts in an attempt to assemble the best possible roster. Choosing a roster is an inexact science since the process is one where there are many moving parts. Schiffner, who will this year be completing 25 years as manager of the Anglers, recruits a roster of 30 permanent players. Those 30 will be augmented with about 15 temporary players. Most of those players will have just finished their sophomore season. The problems complicating the recruiting issue include the fact that most of the recruiting is completed by October of the prior year. Injuries, failure to perform academically and a lack of progress on the field also muddy the waters. Steve mentioned that the Anglers are still looking for “host families” for some of the players. He said hosting a player is a great family experience and to contact him if anyone is interested.

I was struck by two items on the Angler’s webpage. The first was that Jeff Bagwell, who played in Chatham in 1987 and 1988, will be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this summer. The second was that Kris Bryant, who played in Chatham in 2011, led the Chicago Cubs to the World Championship and won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Many of the best baseball players anywhere can be seen close-up at Cape League games each summer. The Cape League offers excellent baseball and wonderful family entertainment at a most affordable price: There is no admission charge for Cape League games. During the game, fans are given the opportunity to voluntarily contribute when team officials and players pass the hat. In this age of expensive entertainment choices, there can’t be a better bargain. Try to catch at least one Angler’s game this coming summer. I believe you’ll enjoy it.

Many of you know that in addition to writing this Chronicle column once a month, I have another great gig that I thoroughly enjoy. I am a DJ on a four-hour oldies rock ’n roll show on WOMR-FM every other Saturday morning. So since 2010, I have traveled to Provincetown to the studio very early in the morning with my own CDs to play rock ’n roll music from 40, 50 and 60 years ago. The choice of music is all mine, which is unique in today’s radio world. Growing up, my musical heroes were Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and James Brown. They invented rock ’n roll, and for me no one has ever done it better. I have had a “Living Legend” segment in every show featuring the songs of Chuck, Fats, Little Richard and Jerry Lee in every show until two weeks ago. And last month, Chuck Berry died in St. Louis at 90. Chuck was a great singer-songwriter and a fantastic guitar player. His stage presence was incredible. He invented the guitar riffs that the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones copped for their songs. His lyrics were amazing and Chuck should be credited with inventing the teenage lexicon that made rock ’n roll the sound track of my life. I find now that I’m not alone in believing that Chuck Berry was the most important performer in the history of rock ’n roll.

And thinking of 40, 50 and 60 years ago, I read an article this week about Howard Johnson’s. It seems that the chain of restaurants that once numbered over 1,000 restaurants is now down to just one remaining “HoJo’s. Howard D. Johnson borrowed $2,000 and founded his first restaurant in Quincy in 1925. Over time, it became the biggest food chain in America. As the article pointed out, “only the army fed more people.” Many of us remember fondly the 28 flavors of ice cream, Ipswich fried clams and the best butter-grilled hot dogs ever. The HoJo’s stand in Chatham is legendary. It stood in the space by the rotary now known as Nickerson Park. It truly was a take-out stand as opposed to a sit-down restaurant. Don St. Pierre was the manager from 1961 to 1968. Don was a terrific manager. He told me that, for a while, Chatham had the highest profit margins of any Howard Johnson’s stands in the country. In Chatham, everyone went to HoJo’s. Young people in Chatham ate there, met their friends and their dates there, hung out there and planned their evenings in the parking lot. So many great Chatham memories centered around HoJo’s. For those of you new to Chatham, you don’t know what you missed.

Hard as it is to believe, there is only one left. If you choose to make a pilgrimage, the last Howard Johnson’s is in Lake George, N.Y. in the Adirondacks. A man named John LaRock has worked in the kitchen there since the 1970s and today he leases and manages the restaurant. LaRock is hoping to buy the restaurant and keep it open as long as he can. He wants to add a gift shop for Howard Johnson paraphernalia. LaRock said that people can’t get enough of the Howard Johnson stuff. I’ve been thinking of calling Don St. Pierre back and taking a road trip. I know we would have a great time.