Bird Banter

Glove_birdcutout This post will not address the Mets’ current slump.  There are countless blogs that can and will do so…a lot more interestingly than I might, I might add.  I’ll leave all the suggestions and strategizing and thoughts about who should be batting in the Number Two spot, whether Tommy Glavine is too focused on Win Number 300, whether guys are having too much fun and not focused enough on wins, whether acquiring Moises was a mistake, why the Carloses are not hitting, etc., etc., to all of the guys on the call-in shows, the other blogs, and elsewhere.  I certainly have no expertise in any of these areas.

Instead I will simply try to remain optimistic and, frankly, just aim to be AWAKE for all of tonight’s game!  (West Coast night games are killers for me!)

And, as in life, I will try to see the humor in things. 

Towards that end, recalling those giant flocks of SEA GULLS all over the field at Comerica Park over the weekend keeps cracking me up. 

It wasn’t like, watching the game on TV, you saw a bird now and then.  It was nearly impossible to get a camera shot of the game WITHOUT a bird in it!  And then when we got a wide shot that showed, say, the entire field, I could not believe the sheer NUMBER of birds that were just hanging out there.  It literally looked like a bird SANCTUARY!

Turns out, Comerica Park is not always like this, and the gulls were not merely attracted to the plentiful concessions.  It seems the Mets left town and, even with no game (nor concession-consuming fans) at Comerica yesterday, the gulls showed up in droves. 

Officials there became so concerned that the grounds crew even brought in an entomologist to address the situation.  It seems the bird problem has been caused by an earlier hatching of moths, i.e., gull grub. 

Whatever course of action the entomologist suggested, however, progress must be slow.  Prior to this evening’s game, I saw highlights of Justin Verlander’s no-hitter tonight from Comerica, and I saw PLENTY of those gulls flyin’ high and walking around the infield too.  They don’t seem to be in any hurry to vacate.

Speaking of sea gulls and the moths that they are attracted to, that reminds me of a recurrent problem related to bugs in my own outdoor work experiences:  every summer the MET performs outdoor performances of operas in concert in local parks in the New York City parks. 

Although rain-outs are always a concern for any outdoor concert (or  ballgame), several years in a row there was a particular problem related to a specific park located on Staten Island.  Every time we performed at this particular venue, our performance–always in mid-June–seemed to coincide with the mating season of a large colony of June bugs that called that particular area of Staten Island home. 

Apparently attracted to the hot spotlights focused on the orchestra and soloists onstage, these bugs would begin to congregate shortlyPotd20030604_1  after the overture began and continue swarming in larger and larger numbers as the opera progressed, spawning and then falling to the floor of the stage to die, buzzing all the while, making an enormous racket.

It was incredibly distracting, if comical, especially when one of the buggers attacked you or your instrument.  Looking around the orchestra while the opera was going on, it was nearly impossible to keep a straight face, much less continue performing:  violinists were putting their bows down to slap their legs, horn players were literally jumping out of their chairs, and the conductor was waving his arms giving extra beats. 

One particular bug-riddled performance resulted in an unexpected intermission having to be taken because the distraction made it impossible to continue.  The orchestra was having trouble keeping any kind of continuity in the music in between the bug-slapping and, although the soprano was a sport and had gamely continued singing, she was understandably a little grossed-out, having had a bug fly right into her open mouth while singing an aria from the evening’s opera, Lucia di Lammermoor!

Funny, I didn’t hear anyone screaming, "Is there an entomologist in the house (on the lawn)?!"  Never mind.

But back to the Comerica Park sea gulls…other than being omnipresent, I don’t think the birds caused any problems.  There was a bird right in front of David Wright in one of the games as he ran forward to field a a chopper and quickly throw to first.  I seem to recall Gary Cohen and Ron Darling of SNY mentioning something about how it was a good thing he hadn’t quickly picked up the bird and thrown it instead.

I cannot swear that there was no foul play (ar, ar) involving the sea gulls.  (Frankly, I found a lot of the games so frustrating that I was not following them as closely as I usually do.) I did hear somewhere (Was it on SNY?) that Oliver Perez’s Bird_book_1 cap had been decorated with gull droppings sometime within the course of the first game, but I was unable to find an official Press Release on that one.  (I heard it was while he was off the mound.)

The presence of the birds did provide for lively discourse between Garry and Ron as well as the opportunity for them to mention the incident in Arizona in a 2001 exhibition game involving a poor bird that pitcher Randy Johnson "exploded" (Ron’s terminology). 

Being reminded of that incident and the proliferation of sea gulls on the field at Comerica Park prompted me to see what I could find out about other incidents where other foul impacted the game.

I found some interesting things:

  • In 1983, Dave Winfield, then with the Yankees, created a furor in Toronto by throwing a ball that hit and killed a seagull at Exhibition Stadium.  The bird was walking, not flying, and because Winfield was just making tosses to the infield between innings, it appeared to the fans that saw it to be intentional.  The Metropolitan Toronto Police charged him with cruelty to animals, but the charge was dropped the next day.

It was said that Billy Martin, in his defense of his player, was quoted as saying, 

"He couldn’t have hit the seagull on purpose. He hasn’t hit the cutoff man all year."

  • Almost exactly one year ago, a baseball collided with a seagull at home plate at a minor league game in Buffalo, New York.  "Seagull hit by pitch (not awarded first base)" read the USA Today headline.  The gull was not awarded a base, but thankfully, he was alright–presumably not meeting a 98-mile-per-hour fastball as in the case of the poor bird, a dove apparently, encountering Johnson’s pitch–and was escorted off of the field.
  • Writing in Baseball Digest in June 2004, Rich Marazzi discussed his contributions to a book that had recently been published on the subject of major leaguers playing from 1950-1959.  In an article entitled "Baseball rules corner: some colorful stories about players from the 1950s", Marazzi writes:
    • "When a batted ball hits a wall or the ground it is no longer considered to be in flight for the purpose of making a catch. If the ball strikes a flying bird, however, it remains in flight. That might not be necessarily true for the bird. And yes, a fielder can make a catch of a batted ball that bounces off a bird. Just ask Frank Ernaga, who had a cup of coffee in the major leagues with the Cubs in 1957 and ’58.

      Playing for Tulsa in the Texas League game against Houston in 1956, Ernaga was in the outfield when Houston pitcher Bill Greason flied to left. As Ernaga waited to make the catch, the ball struck a bird. Nevertheless, Ernaga caught the ball while teammate Bob Will grabbed the bird. No, umps didn’t call "Fowl Ball," they ruled Ernaga’s snare to be a legal catch.

      By the way, Ernaga was flying high when he homered and tripled in his first two major league at-bats. After he glided into the sunset, he became a building contractor in Susanville, California."

Care to feather your nest with yet one more baseball/bird reference?  You canSaa1361_8  go to this NPR afiliate site for their delightful take on interleague (interspecies?) play. 

Baseball is certainly not the only outdoor sport to have been plagued by aviary interference.  The results have often been hysterical as witnessed by an ESPN Sport Center-compiled video montage of "Top Ten Bird Moments", running the gamut of the entire world of sports.

Let’s hope more runs and wins generate news for the Mets in their upcoming games, rather than Mother Nature.  There’s always the Discovery and Animal Planet channels for that, thank you very much. 

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