14 Reasons to Love Minor League Baseball

Somerset Patriots baseball game

1. You can enjoy a game with your dog.

 

2. You can sit here and not spend a nickel more than the guy sitting in the far corner of left field.

The first row at Arm & Hammer Park

3. It’s easier to come up with a ball.

Catching a foul ball

4. The Mascots

Mascots wrestle at TD Bank Ballpark

Sparkee and Slider are two of the three Somerset Patriots mascots. The third is a guy who parades around in a revolutionary war uniform and calls himself General Admission.

5. It keeps the dream alive.

Former major leaguker Endy Chavez

Endy Chavez played for nine different major league teams over a 13-year period. He is widely beloved by New York Mets fans for a game-saving catch he made against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. At age 40, he is patrolling right field for the Somerset Patriots.

 

Former major league pitcher Matt Latos

Matt Latos pitched for nine different teams during an 8-year major league career. During that time he complied a 71-59 won-loss record. He’s giving it one last shot as a closer for New Jersey Jackals,

 

 

 

 

 

6. You don’t have to be a major client of Morgan Stanley to sit in a luxury box.

Watching the Rockland Boulders from a luxury box.

7. If your kids couldn’t care less about the game they can do stuff like this.

8. You can stretch out.

There's lots of space at Palisades Credit Union Park

9. Where else can you see sack races these days.

Between innings at the Somerset Patriots game

10. Bat dogs

Rookie, the Trenton Thunder's bat dog

Rookie is the third generation of golden retrievers to serve at bat dog for the Trenton Thunder, following in the pawsteps of his legendary grandfather Chase.

11. You never know what tonight might be.

Somerset Patriots promotional events

12. The YMCA song never gets old.

Rockland Boulders fans do the YMCA

13. You don’t have to drink Bud or Bud Light

Where to get a beer at a Rockland Boulders game

14. The food.

 

 

Photos are from

Palisades Credit Union Park, Pomona, N.Y., home of the Rockland Boulders

TD Bank Ballpark, Bridgewater, N.J., home of the Somerset Patriots

Arm & Hammer Stadium, Trenton, N.J., home of the Trenton Thunder

Yogi Berra Stadium, Little Falls, N.J., home of the New Jersey Jackals

Skylands Stadium, Augusta, N.J., home of the Sussex County Miners

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TILT! The History of Pinball

Pinball machines at the Silverball Museum in Asbury Park

The pinball machine as we know it was not invented as much as it was an evolution of earlier games. The father of the pinball machine was the French game Bagatelle, a game played on a tabletop with marbles. It is believed that the game was first introduced in the United States by French soldiers who were fighting in the War of Independence. The term “pinball” was not used until 1936, but the evolution of the pinball machine started long before than.

In 1871, a Cincinnati inventor named Montague Redgrove won a patent for a spring-based ball shooter that would become the standard way that balls were launched on pinball machines for decades thereafter. The first coin operated machine debuted in 1889. Innovations came fast and furious in the 1930s after the introduction of two enormously popular games, Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball and Bally’s Ballyhoo. In 1933 the first machine utilizing electricity was introduced. One year later saw the advent of the automatic scoring system. And in 1935 Harry Williams created the first tilt mechanism. Prior to that time you moved the ball around the table by shaking, bumping or banging on the machine. (Something I continued to try to do as a teenager in 60’s.)

An example of an early flipper pinball machine.

Gottlieb’s 1950 Knockdown, an example of one of the early flipper machines. Look at the space between those flippers!

1950's Gottlieb pinball machine

5 balls/5 cents. The going rate in the 1950’s. Hawaiian Beauty is a 1954 Gottlieb machine.

Hayburners by Williams

Williams’ 1951 Hayburners is another example of an early flipper machine. Note the reverse flippers.

Pinball scoring record holders

Pinball emerged as a popular pastime in the 1930’s. It was a cheap form of amusement in a country suffering from the Depression. Production of pinball machines slowed during World War II as most of the country’s manufacturing capabilities were focused on the war effort. Interest in pinball spiked in the post war period.

The authorities were not necessarily enamored with this new amusement. In fact some cities, including America’s three largest, banned the pinball machine as a gambling device. While modern day machines reward outstanding performance with free games, during the early years of pinball, prizes, including perhaps a beer or a pack of cigarettes, were awarded by the machines’ host. In the 30’s you might find a pinball machine in a bar, but also in a drugstore, barber shop or gas station.

Fiorello LaGaurdia, mayor of New York City from 1935 to 1944, claimed that pinball “robbed” schoolchildren of the nickels and dimes that they should have used for lunch money. There were also suggestions of mafia involvement. LaGuardia’s enforcers raided pinball halls, seized machines and destroyed them.

What really changed pinball as an entertainment was the invention of the flipper in 1947 by Gottlieb. It was first introduced on the Humpty Dumpty machine. The new flipper machines gave rise to what has been called the Golden Age of Pinball, from 1948 to 1958. The flipper also paved the way for legalization in those areas where the game was prohibited. With the use of the flipper, the argument went, pinball became a game of skill rather than a game of chance. Even so, legalization did not happen in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles until the 1970’s.

There was another new wave of more sophisticated machines in the 1970’s with the advent of the solid state electronic machine. But by the 1980’s, pinball began to decline as the machines began to give way to video games.

1974 pinball machine at the Silverball Museum

1974 Gottlieb Top Card

1975 pinball machine at the Silverball Museum

1975 Gottlieb Fast Draw

Wide-body pinball machine at Silverball Museum

Gottlieb 1980 Roller Disco, an example of a “wide-body” machine,.

Pin Bot pinball machine at Silverball Museum

Williams 1986 Pin Bot

Three manufacturers, Gottlieb, Bally and Williams, were responsible for most of the country’s popular and innovative pinball machines.

Gottlieb Manufacturing was established by David Gottlieb in 1927. He introduced the first widely popular pinball machine, Baffle Ball, in 1930. It is Gottlieb that produced the innovation that changed the history of pinball, the flipper, in 1947. A few years later they produced the first multiplayer machine, Super Jumbo.

Gottlieb was purchased by Columbia Pictures in 1976. Columbia was later purchased by Coca-Cola and Gottlieb, after being renamed Mylstar Electronics, was closed down in 1984

Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball machine was surpassed in popularity only by Ballyhoo. It is that machine which gave Bally Manufacturing its name when it was founded in 1932. Bally’s contribution to the evolution of pinball included the first multi-ball machine, Balls-A-Poppin, in 1956.  The company went into the casino business in the 1970’s. It began operating casinos and amusement parks (purchased Six Flags) and changed its name in 1992 to Bally Entertainment. Williams acquired the pinball division in 1988.

It was Harry Williams who invented the tilt mechanism and introduced it on a machine called Advance in 1935. Eight years later Williams founded the Williams Manufacturing Company. It was acquired by Seeburg, a jukebox manufacturer, in 1964 and renamed Williams Electronics Manufacturing Division. It was sold when Seeburg went bankrupt. It became a public company in 1987 and acquired Bally pinball. The merged entity also made video games and slot machines. The pinball division was closed in 1999. It is Williams that produced the Addams Family, the most popular pinball machine ever, selling more than 20,000 units.

By the turn of the century, only one pinball manufacturer was left standing. Stern Pinball of Chicago, which was founded in 1999, remains in business. Its market has changed so that a substantial part of its business is home sales. There are also a couple small manufacturers that have sprung up in recent years.

Ball shooter for Indiana Jones pinball machine

Williams’ 1993 Indiana Jones machine added some firepower to the ball shooter. Indiana Jones also included video clips

World Cup pinball machines

Williams 1994 World Cup. (The going price is now 50 cents.)

1997 pinball machine at the Silverball Museum

Bally’s 1997 Circus Voltaire was a product of the merged Bally’s-Williams company.

All photos are from the Silverball Museum on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J.

Pinball arcade and museum on the boardwalk in Asbury Park

 

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217 Steps and an Oceanfront View

The Barnegat Lighthouse, Barnegat Light, N.J.

Lighthouse on Long Beach Island

The first Barnegat Lighthouse was built in 1835 at the northern tip of Long Beach Island on an appropriation of $6,000 from the U.S. Congress. Standing at 40 feet tall and without a blinking light it was ineffective in reducing shipwrecks.

Barnegat Lightouse creator

Lt. George G. Meade of the Army Bureau of Topographical Engineers drew up the plans to replace the original lighthouse and based on his recommendation it was approved by Congress. The structure that still exists today originally was lit in 1859. This one is 175 feet high and initally its light could be seen for 19 nautical miles.

Lighthouse stair count

stairway to the top of Barnegat Lighthouse

Barnegat State Park beach and jetties

The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1927 and turned over to the state of New Jersey. It is now the centerpiece of a state park. Through donations from local residents, jetties were built to protect the structure form the encroaching sea.

Jetty protecting the Barnegat Lighthouse

It was once again through the contributions of local residents, including the Barnegat Light Fraternal Order of Police, that a new lens was purchased and the lighthouse was reactivated in 2009. The light from the new lens can by seen from 22 nautical miles. It is in operation daily from dusk to dawn. The lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Barnegat Lighthouse sign

Barnegat Lighthouse

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Housing Policy and Segregation: New Jersey, a Case Study

New Jersey is a deep blue state. If you walk down the street here carrying a gun, you’ll likely get arrested. We support public education and net neutrality. We have no interest is seeing oil drillers offshore our beaches. We like Planned Parenthood and hate ICE. We celebrate our diversity. And yet New Jersey is one of the most segregated states in the country. 

Mt. Laurel is a 40,000+ population suburb of Philadelphia. Per the 2010 census it is 80% white and median household income is about $85,000.  In the 1960’s, Mt. Laurel was in the midst of a transition from a rural community to a suburb populated mostly by new single-family homes. Some of the town’s poorer, and mostly African-American residents, were displaced to make way for the new developments. When the township turned down a request to build three dozen affordable apartments for displaced residents, they soon ended up in court.  The case went all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and specifically prohibited exclusionary zoning. It was a precedent setting decision and the first of its kind in the nation. 

Morris Township is a 22,000 population town in Northern New Jersey. It is 85% white and has a median household income of $132k. Last month, more than 40 years after the Mt. Laurel ruling, the township committee squeaked through a resolution by a vote of 3-2 that would finally result in the municipality meeting a court approved deadline to provide a plan for affordable housing. They did so at a tumultuous meeting amidst the protests of residents who complained about additional traffic and lower housing values.  

Ultimately segregation is a product of racism and xenophobia. But it has been enabled by housing policy and its implementation. 

Housing segregation in the northeast and in other more densely populated and industrialized areas of the country really took off during the period following World War II. The combination of economic prosperity, low-cost mortgages available to veterans and a baby boom produced a flurry of construction of single-family homes. And federal housing policy quite specifically and intentionally made sure that the housing boom resulted in planting white people in the suburbs. Developers could only get Federal Housing Administration guaranteed mortgages if they agreed to neither sell nor rent to African-Americans. The FHA policy was not to provide loans to developers in minority neighborhoods. At the same time mortgage lenders adopted the practice of “redlining” keeping blacks from buying in white neighborhoods. Meanwhile the low-income housing projects that received federal funding were primarily built in majority non-white neighborhoods. 

low income housing

(image by Charles Deluvio)

By the time of the 1975 Mt. Laurel ruling these specifically racist federal policies had generally been corrected even if more subtle variations continued in place. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited these practices and called for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, religion or national origin. But while the courts, the federal and most state legislatures have continued to support equal housing opportunity, none of this has really resulted in diversity of housing types in most communities nor has it eliminated segregation in states like New Jersey. The commitment has not been universally shared by lenders, builders and realtors.  Nor have local officials and the people whose job it is to enforce these policies done so in good faith. 

Following the initial court ruling, Mt. Laurel did set up some zoning for affordable housing. Some of the land was in an industrial park and some was wetland. So the town again ended up in court and again it lost. A second Mt. Laurel court decision in 1983 clearly established what became known as the Mt. Laurel Doctrine, that each municipality must provide for its fair share of affordable housing.  

The second Mt. Laurel ruling was followed by New Jersey’s own Fair Housing Act in 1985. That legislation created a state agency, the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) which was charged with overseeing municipal efforts to zone for a diversity of housing and to establish quotas for each town.  It never did. The council was suspended in 2010 by New Jersey’s then GOP Governor Chris Christie. The ball was effectively passed back to the courts. While the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Christie did not have the authority to disband the agency, by 2015 it ruled instead that municipalities could petition the lower courts to have their fair housing plans approved. Some have, some haven’t. 

The most recent court initiative came in a case involving two more affluent New Jersey communities, Princeton and West Windsor. In March of this year a Mercer County Superior Court judge set a specific number of affordable housing units for each of these towns, a number that was higher than what either of the townships had argued for. The judge’s ruling established guidelines for the 100+ towns that still haven’t produced an approved Mt. Laurel plan. 

identical houses

(Image by Blake Wheeler)

What all of this shows is that neither court rulings nor legislation builds housing. Most towns only came up with a plan when required to do so. And many of those that did still have little to show except a plan. There is little chance that the Fair Housing Act of 1968 will be enforced in any way by the likes of Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions or Ben Carson. So as we approach the 50th anniversary of the first Mt. Laurel ruling, I can’t see that the doctrine established by the court has come anywhere near achieving what it was intended to do. 

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Hawaiian Flowers in the Bronx

O'Keeffe exhibit sign at NYBG

Georgia O’Keeffe Visions of Hawaii exhibit

New York Botanical Garden

Georgia O’Keeffe traveled to Hawaii in 1939 on commission from the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (predecessor of Dole).  She was charged with creating paintings to be used in the pineapple company’s advertising. The photo to the left below is the O’Keeffe painting “Pineapple Bud” which the Hawaiian Pineapple Company used in their ads. To the right is a pineapple plant that was part of the NYBG exhibit.

The paintings

The flowers

The edibles

The gardens

NYBG conservatory

Reflecting pondHawaii vision exhibit

 

 

 

 

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Is the Hawaiian Pineapple an Endangered Species?

For many of us, one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of Hawaii is pineapple. Fly into one of the islands’ airports and what do you see. They’re selling pineapples in the gift shops. The T-shirts are adorned with the spiny fruit and half the logos of products or places include a pineapple. The second most popular tourist attraction in the state is the Dole Pineapple Plantation. The Hawaiian Islands are indeed the pineapple islands, except for the fact that they don’t grow that many pineapples there anymore.

Pineapple in Lana'i

Without giving it a whole lot of thought I had assumed that the pineapples that we buy here in New Jersey came from Hawaii. Wrong. A quick survey of my local grocery stores showed that all of the pineapples on sale were from Costa Rica. While Hawaii once produced more than 80 percent of the worlds’ pineapples, that number is now down to about one-tenth of one percent. Hawaiian dominance of the world pineapple market peaked in the mid-twentieth century. But that was also the time when some of the largest producers, Dole and Del Monte included, started opening facilities in places like Thailand, the Philippines and Costa Rica. Why? Cheaper labor. In some cases, they paid employees in these countries 10% of what they paid workers in Hawaii.

Dole in Lena'i

By the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st, here’s what happened:

  • It was James Drummond Dole who initiated commercial pineapple production in Hawaii in 1901. Ninety years later, in 1991, Dole shut down the cannery that it had operated since 1907. Since the 1920’s Dole owned nearly all of the island of Lena’i where it operated the world’s largest pineapple plantation. They ceased production there in 1992.
  • In 2007, the Maui Land and Pineapple Company closed its 75-year-old Kahului cannery. The company moved its focus to fresh fruit, but by 2010 they shut down those operations as well.
  • In 2008 Del Monte also ceased operations on the island and, like the others, attributed this to high labor costs. Del Monte’s closure meant the loss of 700 jobs.
Lena'i

These empty fields in Lena’i were once part of the Dole pineapple plantation.

The leading producers of pineapples are now Costa Rica, Brazil, the Philippines, India and Thailand. The U.S. does not even appear of the list of the top 20 producing countries. Hawaii and Puerto Rico are the only places in the U.S. where pineapples are grown. Production in Puerto Rico has shrunk dramatically as well.

But just as there are sanctuaries designed to try to preserve and protect endangered species, there are some “sanctuaries” that are preserving the Hawaiian pineapple. Shortly after the Maui Land and Pineapple Company, the last big grower in Maui, closed up shop, a group of the company’s executives and managers formed Hai’imaile Pineapple Company. They leased some land on the slopes of the dormant volcano Haleakala, bought some of the old company’s equipment and hired 65 former Maui Pineapple employees. Their subsidiary, Maui Gold, now produces some 3.7 million pineapples a year, most of which are for domestic consumption. There’s also a group of family farms on the Big Island and Oahu that operate as Hawaiian Crown growing pineapples for domestic consumption. And a number of small family farms are keeping the islands’ pineapple growing tradition alive.

Maui Gold ready for shipment

On a recent visit to Maui I noticed the roadside stands throughout the island where you could stop and get a fresh pineapple cut up and ready to eat. These were real Maui grown and harvested pineapples. It became a daily stop for me. Pineapple as a large scale commercial operation is gone from Hawaii. But the fruit remains. You just have to go there to appreciate it

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Lavender, Buddhas and Flowers

Ali'i Kula Lavender farm

lavender farm sign

Ali’i Chang, a Chinese-Hawaiian gardener and farmer bought a Protea farm in 1989 in Kula on the slopes of the dormant volcano Haleakala. In 2001 he planted the first lavender on his farm. That farm now boasts 55,000 lavender plants in 45 different varieties. You can go to the Ali’I Kula Lavender farm web site and buy lavender jelly, lavender soap, lavender seasoning and lavender dryer bags. During my visit I enjoyed a lavender scone with some lavender tea. Ali’I envisioned his farm not just as a place to produce lavender products but as a site for “Sustainable Aloha.” He passed away in 2011 and his son Koa has maintained both the farm and his father’s legacy.

The lavender

Ali'i Kula lavender farm

The buddhas

Ali'i Kula lavender farm

The flowers

angel trumpet

The Angel Trumpet is apparently halucinagenic (I didn’t try it)

 

Ali'i Kula lavender farm

Bonsai avocado tree

Ali'i Kula lavender farm

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Bob’s Birthday Bash

Warwick Valley Winery

Bob Dylan’s birthday in May 24. He is 77. His birthday falls during or near Memorial Day weekend and for the last 22 years the Warwick Valley Winery has held Bob Dylan Tribute weekend at their Warwick, N.Y., location. Occasionally the three-day festival includes a national act or two but for the most part it includes local bands and musicians, many of whom are enormousely talented, covering Dylan songs.

Here are some of my favorite Hudson Valley musicians who are regular participants in the Dylan Tribute playng yesterday on the final day of the festival.

Dylan concert

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More Maui

Maui landscape

Humpback whale in Maui

A whale’s tail

Kaanapali

Kaanapali beach walk

 

Windmills in Maui

Palm tree, gray skies

Maui

Beach near Kahului

Beach near Kahului

sunrise in Maui

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The Oracle of Lanai

Lanai

Larry Ellison is the co-founder of Oracle and one of the richest men in America. In 2012 he spent $212 million to buy substantially all of the island of Lanai. Lanai is part of Maui but is a separate island of some 900,000 acres. And it has been a one company town for nearly a century.

fishing off the rocks

The original inhabitants of Lanai had no concept of private ownership of the land. But the Morman missionaries who started to arrive in the mid-nineteenth century did. One of those was a man named Walter Gibson who used church money to acquire much of Lanai, put it in his own name and was later excommunicated by the Mormon Church. But he retained ownership of the land which he passed on to his descendants. In 1922 it was purchased by James Dole for $1.1 million.

Lanai harbor

For most of the rest of the 20th century Lanai was a pineapple plantation. But by 1992 most pineapple production ceased as it was mostly moved overseas. Dole sold the island to Castle & Cooke which was later taken over by California billionaire Larry Murdock. The original Four Seasons resort on the island was built under Murdock’s ownership as part of his plan to develop the island as a tourist destination. That plan failed and his properties fell into disrepair. And his Big Wind scheme, to set up wind turbines to generate electricity to be sold to Oahu, never got off the ground. Then along came Ellison.

Oracle photo

Most of the locals I talked to in Lanai were pretty positive above Ellison’s ownership. His goal is to establish Lanai as an ultra high end resort. He renovated the Four Seasons and reopened it in 2016. A second lodge is being renovated now. The unemployment rate in Lanai has plummeted and he has improved the infrastructure. Under Ellison’s ownership roads have been improved, a new movie theater and pharmacy have opened and a domestic violence shelter for women was built.

Puu Pehe

Puu Pehe (Sweetheart Rock). Legend has it that a warrior from Lanai married a beautiful princess from Maui and hid her in a rock cave here to keep other men from seeing her. She drowned in a storm and the warrior carried her body to the top of this rock, buried her and then dove off to his death.

The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons, Lanai

The Four Seasons, Lanai

the Four Seasons rescue birds

Lanai City

Dole Park

The Lanai City business district is one square block with Dole Park in the middle. Most of the island’s 3,000 residents live in homes on the streets surrounding Lanai City.

Lanai shoreline

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