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Thursday, 14 January 2010
Lights – Camera - Action


Lately I have been receiving steady emails from people wanting to know more about the Angel of Marye’s Heights project. Some of my friends and fellow historians specifically asked questions about my experience in front of the camera. You may recall that in previous posts I have discussed my thoughts as a co-producer in dealing with the marathon schedules and constant location shifting that takes place on a movie set. It is stressful to say the least and most of the time you are burning precious daylight and someone else’s money. It helps to have a good cast and crew and for this film we were certainly blessed. In fact, this documentary would have never come to fruition if not for the talented people that worked on it. I am grateful for every one of them.


It was a very pleasant surprise when Clint Ross asked me if I would be interested in appearing on camera as one of the film’s “talking heads.” Although I had extensive experience as a speaker and radio guest, it would be the first time that I stepped in front of a movie lens. After doing it, I can say without a doubt that it is an entirely different experience when you are on “the other side” of the camera. As co-producer I spent most of my time pacing around the set, talking on the phone, coordinating interviews, and making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to do. Clint had a great handle on things, so he only depended on my network of connections and knowledge of the area and story.


Originally the plan was to shoot my segment atop Marye’s Heights, with me sitting near the Washington Artillery’s cannon. The previous day Megan Hicks was filmed at the base of the slope, at the stone wall, and near the Kirkland Monument. Unfortunately once we started to set-up, the soundman realized that there was far too much background noise to compensate for. It is amazing what you can hear once you stop and listen. In all the years that I have walked that route while giving tours I never noticed the roar of cars, trains, wind, and other sounds that resonate atop that hill.


Quickly thinking of an alternative, I suggested that we drive over to Prospect Hill where Jackson’s troops were positioned. This was a much more secluded spot and it turned out to be one of the prettiest settings in the film. Our NPS filming permits had to be adjusted, but thanks to everyone’s cooperation, production continued on schedule and I was able to shoot my part in a little over an hour. Of course I forgot there was a railroad running through this section of the battlefield and we had to periodically stop as AMTRAK cars went roaring by.


What really amazed me was the tremendous (and sometimes tedious) care and attention that went in to setting up the shots beforehand. Our cinematographer Zach Graber placed lights, boom stands, microphones, reflecting boards, and me in a variety of positions. The end result was a stunning scene that made me look far better than I am. Viewers would be surprised to know that I am sitting on an apple box, in a bed of flowers, with all of this movie junk surrounding me.


As I was the one tasked with asking the other historians their questions, Clint took the stool and played the role of silent interviewer. It helped that he had prepared some great questions that challenged me and kept me interested. What transpired was a casual conversation in which we went back and forth discussing the Battle of Fredericksburg, Kirkland’s life and legacy, and why we choose to remember him today. I only had to start over a couple times when I lost my train of thought, or a butterfly flew in front of the camera.


Looking back it was a great, albeit nerve-racking, experience and one that I won’t soon forget. If I am ever lucky enough to be in front of the camera again, I will know what to expect and what is expected of me. Below is a rough cut of one of my segments discussing the events leading up to Kirkland’s act of humanity. Some of it is on the editing room floor, but the important parts will remain in the final version. For more information on this remarkable story and sponsorship opportunities, visit And don’t miss the previous video blog from the director himself. Enjoy.


Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 11:12 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 14 January 2010 11:17 AM EST
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Wednesday, 13 January 2010
THE Kirkland Movie


As work continues on The Angel of Marye’s Heights documentary, Clint Ross and I want to make a point of saying how very grateful we are for your continued support. In recent weeks, inflating legal and post-production costs have added to the strain of completing this film. Thankfully, our prayers continue to be answered. Due to some generous donations, we are coming closer to reaching our vision. That said…we still have a ways to go.


Clint and I thought it might be a good idea to use video blogging as a sincere way of sharing our own experiences. Periodic video blogs will now be posted here as well as on the film’s official website. For more information on this remarkable story, a preview of the film, and sponsorship opportunities, visit


Below is a short video clip from Clint giving some background from the director’s point of view. Later this week I plan to post my own thoughts of being in front of the camera, as well as excerpts from one of my interview segments. Stay tuned and keep praying for us. It works.

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 3:04 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 13 January 2010 3:44 PM EST
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Monday, 11 January 2010
Bert Belongs

Last week members of the Baseball Writers Association of America cast their votes for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2010. Not surprising, the majority of candidates were not able to acquire the necessary votes, no doubt leaving themselves and their fans disappointed. Perhaps both parties can take solace in knowing that of all the hall of fames, baseball’s version is undoubtedly the most difficult to get into.

Statistically speaking, less than 1% of all professional ball players (ever) have gained entry to the Hall of Fame with the odds being an overwhelming 70-to-1 against the candidate. Entering in the first year of eligibility is even tougher as only one out of every seven major leaguers enter on their first try. This is why a plaque at Cooperstown is so coveted and why the BBWAA’s voting results are so hotly debated.

This year the only candidate on the ballot to achieve the required 75% was eight-time All-Star outfielder Andre Dawson, who had fallen just 44 votes shy in last year’s election. Other nominees who missed the cut included Roberto Alomar, Jack Morris, Barry Larkin, Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez and the highly controversial Mark McGwire, whose record-breaking legacy has been tragically tainted in recent years.

Following the announcement most experts agreed that “The Hawk” (Dawson) deserved to be rewarded - yet at the same time; many were surprised that Bert Blyleven continued to fall short. Despite tallying 400 votes, (74.2 percent) up from 338 last year, Blyleven was once again marginally passed over for the 13th time. He now has only two more chances for induction before being removed from the ballot altogether.

This former baseball-writer is among those who are vehemently outraged with the HOF’s continued exclusion of the greatest curveball in the history of the game. Thirteen years is a preposterous amount of time for a player of Blyleven’s caliber to be left hanging and some fans have accused the BBWAA of holding a personal grudge against the Dutchman due to his work as a commentator. As each election year passes, this conspiracy theory gains momentum and some believe that Blyleven has a better chance of entering the Hall of Fame’s broadcaster’s wing.

As a contributor for Baseball-Almanac from 2000-2006, I had the great privilege of authoring a majority of BA’s historical sections. During that time I was tasked with researching a myriad of baseball milestones. This often required me to communicate with members of the HOF archives and although I myself was never able to obtain voting privileges, I had working relationships with several that did. Each and every one of them took their responsibility as voters very seriously and I always felt that most players were given a fair shake. That feeling has now left me.

At the risk of sounding cliché I can honestly say that there is only a handful of athletes that I feel blessed to have witnessed up-close and in-person. First is Mario Lemieux. Next is Terry Bradshaw. And third is Bert Blyleven. Looking back I can distinctly recall watching Bert on the mound at Three Rivers Stadium, sitting down batter after batter, wearing that ridiculous canary yellow uniform and cuban-style cap.

More specifically...I remember Bert Blyleven’s right arm, which contributed to two World Series Championships (1979, 1987), two All-Star selections (1973, 1985), and an American League Comeback-Player of the Year title.

Blyleven currently ranks 5th all-time in strikeouts (3,701), 9th all-time in shutouts (60), and 27th all-time in wins (287). According to the web site, his other 22-year Major League career highlights include 4,970 innings pitched (13th all-time), 685 career starts (9th all-time), 242 complete games, 15: 1-0 wins (3rd all-time), and 20 wins in 1973. He is also one of only three pitchers to win a Major League game before his 20th birthday and after his 40th birthday.

Most impressive is that Blyleven, with the exception of a couple Cinderella seasons, put up those numbers while starting for mostly mediocre teams. His resume includes the Minnesota Twins (1970–1976), Texas Rangers (1976–1977), Pittsburgh Pirates (1978–1980), Cleveland Indians (1981–1985), Minnesota Twins (1985–1988), and California Angels (1989–1992).

No matter what team may have held him back from the postseason, Bert was first and foremost a great pitcher. It seems that regardless of what clubhouse he called home, his command of the “deuce” was second to none. The deuce was of course the infamous curveball and pitchers today study Blyleven’s delivery with a sense of awe. It is this pitch alone that puts him above and beyond his peers.

Even those with just a casual knowledge of baseball will agree that the curve is among the most difficult, dangerous, and damaging pitches for both the pitcher and hitter. There is a reason why little leaguers are not allowed to use them, college coaches ration them, and very few professionals master them.

Contrary to a fastball which has back spin, the curveball features a diagonal rotation that creates a wake behind the ball, making the pitch drop on its way to the plate. The curveball is primarily used to disrupt the opponent's timing and Blyleven used this toss to embarrass his opponent again and again.

Such a master of the craft, Bert served as the pitching coach for the Dutch during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. That ballclub exceeded expectations, beating the highly favored team from the Dominican Republic twice to advance to the second round before falling. It is said that the Dutch did so largely because of strong pitching performances by unlikely players who credited Blyleven’s tutelage for their success.

The real agony in all of this is that Bert Blyleven missed admission to the 2010 Class by only 0.8%. That means he is the only retired member of the 3,000 strikeout club not in the Hall of Fame...because 5 lousy votes kept him out!

Even more frustrating is the fact that some BBWAA members have openly admitted in recent days that they did not vote at all. I cannot imagine not using that right and shame on anyone who is fortunate enough to have that level of influence and waste it. Perhaps justice will prevail next year as an ever-growing and impatient nation of Bert Blyleven fans await the 2011 vote with baited breath.

To those in the BBWAA who may be listening out there I say do the right thing. Reward a man who made this game better for the years that he played it - and who did so with an amazing curveball that was greater than any other pitcher's at the time (maybe all-time). Isn't that what being a Hall of Famer is all about?

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 1:05 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 11 January 2010 3:03 PM EST
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Wednesday, 6 January 2010
Not again!

In my 37 years on God’s green earth, I can count the marvels that I have personally witnessed on a single hand. One of these was Bert Blyleven’s curveball. Today he was passed over for induction into the Baseball Hall Of Fame (for the 13th time). Therefore I am canceling all planned posts this week in place of crafting a lengthy and well deserved tribute on his behalf. Days like today make me miss being a baseball writer. I never received voting privileges, but results like these lead me to believe that anyone can be a HOF voter. Stay tuned for my argument on behalf of the Dutchman.

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 9:59 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 6 January 2010 10:00 PM EST
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Sunday, 3 January 2010
a REAL honor

Welcome back friends. I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season. I just returned from a family trip up to Pittsburgh where we spent several days celebrating Christmas with relatives on both sides of our family. Most importantly, I got to spend a week with my eldest son who has been away at college since August. I also managed to find time to visit my favorite used bookstore where I picked up some second-hand titles to expand the Revolutionary War-side of my library. This included “General George Washington” by Edward G. Lengel (which I am beginning to read on the train tomorrow) and “The Battle for New York” by Barnet Schecter.

An unexpected New Year’s blessing came in the form of an invitation to perform the wedding ceremony for my wife’s cousin and her fiancée. I am an ordained (non-denominational) minister (completely separate from my own Presbyterian affiliation) and I cannot think of a bigger honor to be asked. I am humbled and excited as this June I will be speaking at a banquet on Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign in Lexington and then the following weekend, performing a wedding ceremony at the Mountaineer in West Virginia. I have been asked to do a lot of great things, but this is by far the greatest.

I also wanted to remind everyone that my article on "Race and Remembrance at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello" is appearing in this month’s issue of Patriots of the American Revolution. Be sure to pick up a copy and please let me know what you think as this is the first published piece in my newly transferred genre.

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 9:49 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 4 January 2010 11:35 AM EST
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