Sports

Karl Lindholm: Hot Stove League, Vermont: Coach Carter

IT WOULD BE hard to imagine a better breakfast companion for a Hot Stove League conversation than longtime and much admired baseball Coach Jim Carter.

Editor’s note: The first of a two-part series.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
— Rogers Hornsby
Back in time, when baseball enjoyed its hegemony among the leisure passions of Americans, there was the “Hot Stove League,” a term coined in the 19th century. The image was of folks warming themselves around a pot-bellied stove talking baseball in winter’s chilly off-season.
Last weekend, I participated in a great Hot Stove League session. I met in Hinesburg on Saturday morning at the Parkside Café with Jim Carter, the most universally respected baseball man in Vermont.
For 33 years, Jim was the baseball coach at Winooski High School (six state championships!), and a middle school history and language arts teacher. After his retirement, he coached for six years at the University of Vermont (and was the “academic accountability coach”). Since 2009, when UVM gave up baseball, he has coached the “club” team there. Everyone calls him “Coach” or “Skip,” terms of warmth and respect. And he offers a smile and good word for all he meets.
I wanted to get Jim’s views on “contraction,” Major League Baseball’s proposal to contract its minor league commitment by dramatically reducing the number of MLB affiliates, a move that could affect the Vermont Lake Monsters.
I also wanted to discuss with him another historical “contraction,” the elimination of baseball as a varsity sport at the University of Vermont, not just in 2009, but earlier in 1971, in both cases at a time when the program was successful on the field.  For the past 10 years, Jim has lent his passion to the effort to “Bring It Back!” organizing “Friends of UVM Baseball” in an effort to return baseball to the flagship state school.
As we were making plans to meet, Jim and I decided to contact Tom Simon, another passionate local baseball figure, and asked him to join us. Tom and Jim took 11 Vermont kids to Cuba in 2016 to play games there against Cuban youth, an unforgettable experience for all. Tom was the editor of “The Green Mountain Boys of Summer” (2000), a wonderful book that provides biographies of all 34 Vermonters who played in the Major Leagues. His comprehensive book on the Cape Cod League, the best college amateur league in the country, “The Cape Cod League Encyclopedia,” will be out in the spring of 2021.
In his 50s, Tom still plays senior baseball in Vermont with the Burlington Cardinals. Among his teammates are Red Sox Hall of Famer Bill Lee of Craftsbury (also known as “Spaceman”) and Burlington mayor/catcher Miro Weinberger. Tom underwrites his baseball passion with a career as a lawyer.
At breakfast, Jim, Tom, and I first discussed the controversial proposal by Major League Baseball, quite out of the blue, to trim its minor league affiliations by 25%, from 160 teams to 120 teams in the 2021 season. The list of the 40 or so teams that would be affected includes the Lake Monsters, who have been entertaining fans at venerable Centennial Field for the past 25 years, first as the Vermont Expos (16 years), a farm team of the Montreal Expos, and for the past nine years as the Lake Monsters, an affiliate of the Oakland A’s.
The loss of the support of their major league sponsor would be a blow, perhaps the death knell, for the Lake Monsters, as we have experienced the team anyway. Eight other teams from the New York-Penn League are similarly jeopardized.
While we sat in a booth drinking coffee, Tom gave Kyle Bostwick, vice president of the Lake Monsters, a call to see if he would join us, as he lived just around the corner. He did — and provided us with the local perspective on the negotiations between Major League Baseball (MLB) and Minor League Baseball (MiLB) as they posture and debate a new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) before its expiration next September.
Kyle has been with the Lake Monsters for all of its 25 years, starting out as an intern and rising to be owner Ray Pecor’s indispensable top official, overseeing all aspects of the team. He is a lifelong Vermonter, born and raised in St. Albans, graduating from Bellows Free Academy. He was educated at UVM and at Lyndon State, where he played outfield on the baseball team. He graduated from Lyndon in 1994, went to work for the Expos in their first year, and was the team’s General Manager within two years.
Kyle reminded us these negotiations are in their early stages and won’t affect play next summer. As he said in the Burlington Free Press a month ago, “this back and forth is part of the process … nothing has been finalized. We are looking forward to another fantastic season of Lake Monsters baseball in 2020.” Much is in flux. Stay tuned.
As we were holding forth, Tom got a phone call from Bill Lee, who reminded us that he is “the greatest over-70 baseball player in the world.” Tom and Bill were gathering in Burlington that afternoon with their senior league teammates for their mid-winter meeting at the Arts Riot — Tom allowed that “there might be some drinking.”
Along the way that morning, a young man in a UVM sweatshirt came by and greeted Coach Carter warmly. This was “Sam,” a player on Jim’s UVM club baseball team (“outfielder, lefty hitter, pretty good, bats third”) on his way home to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., his semester over. The intimate connection, player and mentor, was obvious.
We split up before noon, just before the Parkside Café might have charged us rent on our booth. We didn’t solve all the problems of the world, or baseball’s contraction controversy, but I for one was warmed by this Hot Stove League session, especially grateful now as I sit tapping away at my desk in front of the window, the snow falling, the temps headed to the single digits.
I try not to think about the fact that official winter hasn’t even begun. 
In Karl Lindholm’s next column, look for “Bring It Back”: The compelling legacy of UVM baseball.

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