Category Archives: Bill Byham

SPORTS DIGEST with Bill Byham

Bill Byham, Sports announcer, writer and famous for "That's 30"

Bill Byham, Sports announcer, writer and famous for “That’s 30”

BETWEEN HERE AND THERE: BIG HEADS CAN GET DEFLATED – We are attending a college baseball game. Hillsborough Junior College is hosting Tampa University JV’s. The UT head coach has sent several of his varsity players “down” to get them some extra innings.Some of those sent down were pitchers from the highly rated UT program which, to me, meant they should be able to compete with the JUCO batters.

Not so in this outing. By the time we found a bleacher seat Hillsborough was up by six runs as every batter in the line up had produced base hits resulting in runs. Before the carnage ended the scoreboard read 17-5 by mid game.

The UT JV coach, probably taking control of the issue, benched all of the varsity players and put his own kids on the field. The final score closed out 17-14 with UT threatening in the ninth with two on when the third out came.

For some unexplainable reason my old mind jumped
into a day just like that when I was a ton younger and cockier than I should have been.

I was just home from my first year of pitching professional ball. I had not set the world on fire out in Springfield, Ohio but the people in Kane/ Ludlow, Pa. did not know that so when Jiggs called to have me come down to Ludlow Park to pitch I was on my way in a hurry.

The word went out that Buck was coming to pitch! A real pro pitcher! Wow!

Ludlow is just a few people bigger than a blink of an eye community but it had this great park. It was where all of the churches in McKean County held their summer picnics. It had a pool, swings, sliding boards and a lot of picnic tables. In the middle of the park was their baseball field. An all dirt infield and a rather large covered grandstand. The people up there loved their small town baseball so they came to games played by the hometown Ludlow Wildcats.

I had played for the Wildcats. They were a good ball team as teams go. We all wanted to play there because they paid pitchers a buck an inning and hitters could take home five bucks a homer and three for a 3-hit day.

When you play professional baseball there are those people who are being paid to teach you a pitching art. Keep the ball low, work the corners, never throw an 0-2 pitch in the strike zone, if the hitter stands away from the plate pitch him away, if he crowds the plate pitch him in on his hands, make the curve to go through the strike zone and a lot more.

So I go down to the park with all of this professional stuff in my head. When I had pitched there before I was just a hard thrower. Beat the bat with a fast ball and a home made curve. But now I am a pro, so these

these small towners were going down! I got clobbered! Big time! Here I was, working with all of those professional tricks of the trade. It seemed that those old country boys didn’t care about my pro finesse. They just brought their bats to the plate, picked a pitch and drove it some place. They were scoring runs in bunches.

This game I was watching just last week told the same story. Those varsity pitchers who were assigned to the JV team seemed to be pitching with the attitude “I am varsity at a four year D-2 nationally ranked baseball program so lets get this over with.”

Turned out the other way. Hillsborough hit everything pitched their way. Big heads can get deflated.

PAT DANEKER – Had my Florida chat with Pat Daneker the day of the Hillsborough JC game. Turned out to be his first day off since he arrived at the Yankee spring training complex in early February so he was headed to a movie to get away from baseball for a day.

Pat is in his second year of being the pitching coach for the Staten Island Yankees and this coming season he will come to historic Bowman Field for an August 3-game series with the Crosscutters. When he does get here he will be able to recite some good and bad moments about Bowman since he had played in there as a high school player for Loyalsock Twp.

About his 2009 Yankees he said, ” I have some of the guys here now that could become part of our club. The bulk of our team will come from players out of the baseball draft and college.”

Staten Island won their division of the NYPEN League last year. They advanced to the final league championship round before bowing out.

GOTTA GET HOME – There are a lot of spring sport events I look forward to seeing when we get back in the Valley but there are two specials in my book.

I told you a couple of years back about my deep feelings for the late Dr. Joe Calder. Since his death, I have been able to meet and enjoy the rest of the Calder family.

This week daughter Beth has the Regis University women’s lacrosse team at home for an Eastern trip. Regis is in Denver, Colorado where Beth is working on becoming a licensed physical therapist.

She is the assistant coach but one of the persons responsible for adding women’s lacrosse to the Regis athletic program.

They are to play the Bloomsburg University team at 2 P.M. Saturday afternoon.

On the weekend of April 25-26 the Penn College Archery team, a nationally ranked program of many years, will host the Eastern Regional Intercollegiate Championships on the PCT campus.

The Wildcats are coming off a super winter ending season in which they had individual and team firsts at the Adam Wheatcroft Memorial in Virginia. Coach Chad Karsteller , a PCT 3 time All American, will field seven All Americans for the Easterns.

I personally have never seen an archery competition but have scheduled my calendar to see this one. I have no information at this time as to costs involved in gaining admission but will have that in this space next week.

THAT’S 30

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SPORTS DIGEST by Bill Byham

Bill Byham, Sports announcer, writer and famous for "That's 30"

Bill Byham, Sports announcer, writer and famous for "That's 30"

HOW ABOUT PENN STATE BASKETBALL? – I have never forgotten Jim Keller taking me to a Penn State booster meeting in Williamsport when Fran Fisher was coming to talk Nittany Lion football (and take home with him any checks some of those in attendance might write)It was an eye opening night for me. My college life was all wrapped up around D-3 ball. I had never been a part of a D-1 gathering where so many die hard Blue and White fans gathered to hear the message from up top. I guessed the message included a call for funding aid and that became evident near the end of the evening.

But Fisher, who at that time a radio voice of Penn State football, opened the session to anyone who had questions or comments about anyone of the other sport programs offered at the university.

“Why is it, Fran, that Penn State can’t put a representative basketball team on the court?”

The question was asked long before Penn State played Big Ten ball. It was asked before the Lady Lions played into the national limelight. It was asked before name coaches ever considered Penn State as a place to build a winner’s reputation. I know, for a fact, that Chuck Daly, two time NBA champion coach at Detroit and a Gold winning coach at the Olympic Games, put his name in for the Penn State job soon after he had decided to move up from high school to college coaching.

It was asked when major college basketball was beginning to recruit “center city” players, young men who played the game in Baker League ball on corner courts in the cities. They played all year round and welcomed the hot summer nights when several groups would come together on a bare spot in the neighborhood and shoot hoops at any kind of rim that could be attached to the walls.

The rules were quite simple. Team A and Team B opened the evening’s play. That game might have been one that the winner was the first team to score 20 points counting by one. When it was over, the winning team stayed while the loser went to the end of what could be a long line.

Fran Fisher answered the question by saying, ” The kids we need for playing and winning at the high level tell me they could not be comfortable coming out here (State College) to get an education and play basketball. More than one recruit has said there is not enough concrete to walk on out here. The center city kids are being recruited but are not choosing Penn State.”

For years Penn State men’s basketball was there but was to be taken for granted. It was just one of the more than 30 intercollegiate sports that football paid for during the course of the year. Coaches came and coaches went, players came and players went. Same with fans but only seldom was there a crush for game tickets.

There were players like Jesse Arnell and Clinton Carver(or was he Carver Clinton) but never enough help for those outstanding players to win much of anything. They did win the 1991 A 10 Tournament but last week Penn State won its first ever national championship with a gut check 69-63 win over Baylor (24-15) to capture the 2009 National Invitational Tournament. State closed their historic season at 27-11.

The tournament capped the longest ever State men’s season with a run of 10 wins in their final 13 games. They were on the NCAA list for a spot in the larger national D-1 tourney but did not get a selection. When chosen to the N.I.T. there were not many who got excited even when they defeated George Mason and Rhode Island. Game three was on the road at Florida, the program that put two NCAA national championships in their book on back-to-back years in this decade. The Nittany Lions, living up to coach Ed DeChellis’ definition of his team, “We have tough kids. We will compete. That’s been our trademark all season. “, went into Tallahassee and came out with the upset win before taking on and defeating Notre Dame to move into the finale versus Baylor.

I can’t tell you how many, if any, of the 14 man roster came to Penn State from a “center city” program. Instead, the roster can maybe be defined as “ho-made” since six players are from Pennsylvania schools with five of those listed as freshmen.

DeChillis will lose four seniors headed up by tourney MVP, Jamelle Cornley (Columbus, Ohio/Brookhaven), Stanley Pringle (Virginia Beach, Va./ Landstown/ Pasco -Hernando CC), Will Lenier (Coplay, Pa/ Whitehall) and Danny Morrison (Cleveland, Ohio/ Pendleton School, Fla.)

I started following this ball club when they won their first six games while playing teams like New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Later in their season, in Big Ten play, it appeared they had hit the usual Penn State funk in losing to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Purdue. That turned out to be their longest losing streak of the season. In between they won some and lost some but they were making a late season run to put their name on the NCAA bubble list. That did not happen but I am thinking, while the NCAA brings more prestige, DeCellis and Company have come back to State College very happy over what developed in their 2008-09 season and N.I.T. experience.

By the way. 36 fan buses out of State College plus the “walk ups, certainly proved this team had its support.

THAT’S 30-

SPORTS DIGEST by Bill Byham

Bill Byham, Sports announcer, writer and famous for "That's 30"

Bill Byham, Sports announcer, writer and famous for "That's 30"

HOLMES BEACH, FLORIDA QUICKIE LOOK BACK  – Our voyage to the Anna Maria Island has ended and we can honestly say we were not cheated by the weather. Three cloudy days with the daytime temps in the high 70’s and rain that was there one minute and over there the next minute.

Despite the very scary economic issues, tourism was running full tilt on the popular island of three cities just off the causeway from Bradenton. While I can state we were not weather cheated, we leave the Island and all of Florida fully knowing their desperate need for rain to end what has become three and a half years of drought. A drought that has become so serious that community leaders are setting down fines of up to $250.00 if a person is caught washing a car or watering a lawn.

MY PIRATES BEAT THE RAYS  – There are eight major league baseball teams who “winter” in Florida (and eight major league teams that now “winter” in Arizona) and we have spent the month of March in Bradenton which has hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates for 41 consecutive spring seasons.

This past weekend, with nine more games to go before heading north, the Bucs carried a record of 14-10-2 (ties are common in spring training) with nine games left to play. That put them on track for their first winning spring since 2003 when they left here at 14-12. The did play to a 14-14-2 in the 2005. The Pirates were, as of this past Saturday, third in the National League standings. The Phillies were 12th with a 10-13 record.
The worst part of being a today Pirate fan is that they are about to open a record setting year. For the past 16 seasons they have been under the .500 record. If that is the case this year they will set a new record for major league baseball for consecutive losing seasons. The only other team to string together a losing streak like that was the Phillies between 1933-1948.

TAKING NELLIE TO A GAME – It was one of the rare cloudy days we have had here since March 1 so I felt it was a good time ask if we could pass up the beach and head across to see the Pirates play Tampa Bay.

“Wanna go see the Pirates play?”

“Well, I guess if that is what you want to do.”

“Are you sure?”

“I just said so. You want to go see a game. What time do we have to be there? ”

“We should get there early. It could be a good one since the Pirates are playing Tampa Bay. You know, the team called the Rays who went from last to first last year in the American League. The team we watched in the World Series. Remember?”

“Oh yea. The guy who was from over in Pittston with the silver hair.”

“Right.”

So we get there early, pay our five dollars to park in behind somebody’s garage and got in the ticket line. We were able to get them for Section 18 down the right field line and up to Row 11.

” Son of a gun. I see they have raised the ticket price. Ed, Jim and I just paid six bucks for those same seats. Today, eleven bucks a piece! But, heck, we are in and ready to see a major league game.”

Then the rains came. One of those typical afternoon Florida rains. Just came. Hangs around for a few minutes, long enough to make all things wet and then quits just as the PA guys tells us “There will be a 15 minute rain delay.”

We had joined hundreds of other ill equipped fans rushing for any overhang. Ours happened to be along Hot Dog Row , right in front of a serving window.

“Good time for a hot dog!”, yells the vendor inside. “Please don’t block the windows!”

We had no choice but to make a buy.

She says, “Let’s just get one hot dog and split it. Ok?”

I’m smiling because I know from many years past I will get the biggest half of the split because hot dogs are not high on her eating list.
“Ok. Get one.”, says I.

We eat the dog and, with the sun now on our backs, we climb up into Section 18, Row 11 and find seats 19 and 20. She had been smart as they have these large rolls of napkin paper you can tear off. She took quite a bit off one of the rolls to use to dry the seats off.

We are seated among a mixture of fans, the anthem was sung (as it was written, Jim) and the game began.

After one inning the Pirates lead 2-0 and our section is happy. Our team is up with good pitching (Zack Duke) and two walks ( Nyger Morgan and Andrew Mc Cutchen) followed by a double steal and a 2-run triple by former Ray Eric Hinske.

And the rains came.

This time the game played through the rain. Remember all of that napkin paper Nellie took? Out it comes and is placed on the top of her head to protect the hair as a swarm of those grey and white seagulls you see on the beach descended over and around the ball field. Swooping all around players and fans alike. Now she is most concerned about getting more than water on her head. Didn’t happen.

Again the rain was short lived. The birds, that provided the extra entertainment, left the field and the Pirates went on to beat the Rays 4-1.
We are working to beat all of the traffic away from the ball park when she said, “I am glad I got you to a ball game. That’s better than I did last year.”

What else could I say but, “Thanks.”

THAT’S 30

SPORTS DIGEST by Bill Byham

Bill Byham, Sports announcer, writer and famous for "That's 30"

Bill Byham, Sports announcer, writer and famous for "That's 30"

DADE CITY, FLORIDA, FAMILY PRIDE – Two Byham grandsons live in Florida. They both started in baseball and had moved to Little League together. Ed always seem to have a good feeling in his baseball play while younger brother Matt dropped the glove and ball to take on the sport of soccer We have been able to watch them grow into teens while watching them grow in their respective sport choice. Ed is now a freshman at the University of Tampa while Matt is a sophomore at Pasco High School.

The pride for us comes from the fact that both have moved their academics to a new level while keeping up with a full schedule in their sport choice.

Ed has wanted to play baseball from the time he was chosen to play on a “coach pitch” style of Little League baseball in the community of San Antonio. He liked the game even at that very young age so he played all the catch he could while batting off his T. It seemed he was never without his bat and glove. Matt, a lefty, started his baseball at the same level and was doing well when he made the switch to soccer. The two of them can argue their sport in family debates and neither will take a back step in feeling their sport is the best sport.

I won’t take you through a bad situation for Ed in high school baseball but he landed on his feet with new coaching and a change of position to get his name recognized as second team All Conference catcher while playing for Wesley Chapel High School. He was not recruited but his new coach was a one man “agent” in promoting his talents to the University of Tampa staff.

With his strong academic ability, Ed could pick and choose a college but that baseball desire was a priority in his making a decision.
UT is an NCAA D-2 school and its baseball program has won the national championship two times in this decade. Currently ranked in the Top Ten, there is speculation the team can make another run for the D-2 championship.

What made the UT choice for Ed was a walk on invitation to the program as part of the UT junior varsity team. There was a roster of over 30 young men playing at that same level. Some were recruited. Some are already sophomores or older since it is common for a varsity player to “come down” to get their baseball back in order. But Ed is in the mix and is getting playing time at third base and catching while being used quite often as the designated hitter.

Matt, meanwhile, had played himself out of middle school soccer and had proceeded to the Pasco JV team as a defenseman. He is also playing age group Competition Soccer (U-17).

He started out as a self made player but with some good coaching plus his desire to be “always better’ he is being counted on to play a lot of minutes for both of his teams. At the outset of his school soccer season he was a JV starter but at the end of the season he was a varsity regular. This is his second full season as a starter with the U-17 Pasco Pirate soccer team which is on its way this coming weekend to Jupiter, Florida where the large District 2 tournament is being held.

Matt’s sport season started last fall as a cross country runner. It was another case where he ran as a junior varsity competitor at the start of the season but ended up with the varsity runners.

It feels good to be able to get down here and to see the boys play their games.

O’MALLEY CALLS – March is a very important month for Tom O’Malley. He spends the month chasing major league baseball teams here in Florida and then out in Arizona. He is looking for THAT player who he feels can fit in playing baseball in the Orient while making a sizable contribution to the Hanshin Tigers drive for a baseball championship.

“Tough job. ” he said to me the other day by phone from Arizona. “Really tough for a guy like me who loves baseball. All I do is go around to all of the major league teams, see them play day after day and talk to some of the guys about playing baseball for Hanshin.” Something I had not given thought to about taking an American ball player into Japan was the fact that player needs to really be educated about playing and living in the Japanese culture.

“The rules limit the number of Americans on a team so the Japanese players form the largest population of a team of 25. Somehow we have to get the American player to find his place on the ball club. Equally important is to get that player to understand what it is like to live in a Japanese city, to stay with the culture. Going to the store, going out to eat or a hundred things they would take for granted playing in the states”
“That is some of my job.”, said the Montoursville native. ” Not only finding the player who wants to play in Japan but finding the player we feel can cope with all of the changes that are about to come into his life. After signing such a player I will head to Japan and spend several weeks mentoring the player and his family about where they are living and playing.”

Really interesting stuff.

DANEKER IN TAMPA  – Loyalsock Twp.’s Pat Daneker is in Tampa and in the New York Yankee spring training camp as he prepares to serve a second year as pitching coach to the Staten Island Yankees of the New York-Penn Short A league.  The Yankees made the post season play in 2008 before bowing out after winning the first round of the playoffs.

THAT’S 30

SPORTS DIGEST by Bill Byham

Bill Byham, Sports announcer, writer and famous for "That's 30"

Bill Byham, Sports announcer, writer and famous for "That's 30"

Williamsport – HOLMES BEACH, FLORIDA – FAR EAST BASEBALL – I was watching a few innings of the Korea 1-0 win over Japan and right on the table beside me was the Bradenton Herald newspaper with a photo of a US soldier coming home from Iraq. Put the two things together and you have this weeks Digest.The first thing that struck me, and some of you might have watched that ball game, was seeing the two pitchers. One from Japan and then the opposing pitcher from Korea. They were outstanding pitchers and were so fluid in their 5-Step delivery. Their control was so fine. Gosh! It just was a joy to watch these two young men from two different nations but looking like they had attended the same baseball camp or learned from the very same pitching coach.

Somewhere in there I took my eyes from the game (probably commercial time) to look at the paper. There was that story on the homecoming soldier and it hit my head that those two pitchers I was admiring could look back on their baseball history, as far back as the mid-1940’s, to learn that the game of baseball was “taught” to their ancestors by US soldiers who were stationed in their nations at the end of World War II.

Those same US soldiers were in many nations of Europe and played their baseball games across that part of the world but it did not “take” like it did in Japan and other Far East nations.

If my memory is holding it was a US soldier, an air force sergeant, who managed one of the very first Japanese entries in the Little League world series.

That team, said their coach, could not win the series. “We are just too small. We can use our gloves as well as anybody. We can run fast but our legs are too short to beat out bigger kids.” Then he added, “And we know how to pitch but don’t have the arm speed to be fast enough to get the bigger kids out.”

When he had those pitchers practicing we noticed how fluid they were in pitching the ball toward the plate. One of the actions that marked the Far East pitching was to have them take their hands and arms way up over their heads and down the back of their necks just before they pushed forward to deliver the ball. Watching these young pitchers last week there was one who still had that action in his delivery.

The sergeant showed a lot of pride in being a Little League manager as he went on to tell us he loved baseball. He had played it “back home” as a kid and was so excited about having the opportunity to teach “his” game to these kids from Japan.

The Japanese ball player has come so far from that team that pioneered Far East baseball in Little League but it has also come very far in places like Korea and Taiwan.

I am reminded here that two of our very own took their baseball to Japan. Montoursville’s Tom O’Malley and Hughesville’s Jason Phillips both played US baseball from Little League up and into the big leagues.

O’Malley had played in the majors for several seasons before making the decision of going to the Japanese major leagues. It turned out to be a winning decision as he became a major baseball star in Japan as well as a national celebrity. Phillips, after spending most of his years in the minor leagues with Pittsburgh and Cleveland, ended up in Japan on a very bad ball club. O’Malley remains as part of Japanese baseball as a US scout for the Hanshin Tigers while Phillips, now living in Montoursville with his wife and children, is out of baseball as a player but is appearing at teaching clinics.

If you were on with me watching this Korean- Japan game you had to see and hear all of that cheering and noise making coming out of the stands. O’Malley told that story one year after being over there to play.

“The fans are a very important part of any game. They don’t come and sit on their hands like so many US fans do. Their cheers are organized and are colorful. They add so much to game being played.”

I was reminded of that while watching a Little League senior division game that was being played on the Birdie Tebbetts Memorial Field in Holmes Beach this past Saturday. It was a basic ball game we see today. Nine players out on the field against a batting team. The 5-Step delivery was about two steps short from the pitchers on both sides but the two teams were working in their effort to win. The were about 25 or 30 people and softly cheered when one of their team contributed a positive play. But there were no Hey Batta – Hey Batta players or fans. It was a silent baseball wake which has pretty much become the accepted player and fan mode in US baseball.

THE POST SEASON IN LYCOMING COUNTY – The Lefthander is about 12 hundred miles away from the Valley and like so many of you right there, I have been rooting for all of the kids who were carrying our Valley banner down the PIAA road.

Last weekend I hung on words called to me and had to split my feelings in learning the Hughesville Spartans of Nick Tagliaferri had defeated Trinty in the 2A state quarter finals.

The win, 67-60, takes the ball club to a 23-5 record as they take the next step tonight.

The other side of those feelings were on the sad side when I learned that Alan Taylor and his Williamsporters lost their bid to advance as they lost to Plymouth-Whitemarsh 65-64 in overtime.

We sports fans living in the Valley are so fortunate to have coaches and programs providing us season after season with headline young people who are willing to give of themselves to a sport in attempting to bring back the big prize.

THAT’S 30