Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Inside and Beyond the Lines

To the uninitiated, baseball seems boring. They don’t see the strategy unfolding between the lines and have little idea of the drama unraveling outside the lines.

robinson_david_philly_1980_ypv8y2g1_djv1z2ywThree fascinating examples illustrate the point involving the son of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, a current star who defected from Cuba and a Major League Baseball rookie who spent seven long, enervating years in the minors.

Almost everyone knows and admires the story of Jackie Robinson, who endured slurs and slights as the first African-American big league player. Robinson is honored one day each season when every player wears his number, 42, on their jerseys. Meanwhile, virtually no one has heard of one of Robinson’s sons who moved to Tanzania 25 years ago to run a coffee farm.

Born of famous parents and raised in Connecticut, David Robinson, now 61, shunned the spotlight and refracted glory of his father to make his own way in the world, living in Dar es Salaam with his wife and 12 children, 10 of whom survive. His dad had retired from baseball for most of David’s childhood and he fondly remembers time they spent together. But he chose a very different life.

David first went to Tanzania when he was 15, tagging along with his mother, Rachel, on a 10-month trip across Africa. He stayed an extra month with friends in Ghana, where life was different from private schools back in the United States where he played on an ice hockey team. It was the beginning of a new life outside the shadow of his outsized father, as recounted in a story published by

yasiel-puig-20141Yasiel Puig had a breakout season in 2013 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but few knew much about how he got to Chavez Ravine. ESPN has now traced the story, which is harrowing. It is not the usual path to the Major Leagues. But Cuba is not your usual minor league.

The story tracks Puig’s failed attempts to escape and his ultimately successful effort, through Mexico and the hands of a drug cartel. When Puig stands in the outfield, he represents the collective effort of snitches, criminals and wannabes, not to mention some people who risked their lives on promises Puig made, but apparently didn’t keep. If Puig bobbles a pop fly, perhaps you can understand he has a few other things on his mind, such as lawsuits and death threats.

Then there is the story of Yangervis Solarte, who spent seven seasons bumping around the minor leagues before he got his chance in the Bigs with the New York Yankees. Solarte spent the last two seasons in the Texas Rangers organization, but they let him go because he failed to demonstrate plate discipline. He swung at too many bad pitches. But clearly he also persevered.

New York YankeesA few weeks into the 2014 MLB season, Solarte ranks among the top first-year players in making contact on pitches both in and out of the strike zone. That helped him to post a team-leading .357 batting average. And last Friday in St. Petersburg in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays, switch-hitting Solarte swatted his first big-league home run after starting a rare triple-play. Not a bad day for any player. A super day for a 26-year-old, nearly cast-off rookie.

For people who see baseball as a game with a bunch of guys standing around scratching and chewing, you are missing a fascinating slice of life taking place between and often beyond the lines.



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