Baseball – I Love It
HERE WE ARE IN DECEMBER. We are just a few days before Christmas and what am I thinking about – Baseball, that’s what.
Baseball – I love it.
Some of my earliest recollections are the images of my father sitting next to the huge console radio, smoking a Camel, and listening to the Pittsburgh Pirates wallow about in the cellar of the National League. He would have a pad of score sheets in his lap and he would make a seemingly hieroglyphic record of every at bat. He could look at that piece of paper and relive every second of the game.
I was just a little guy when, about twice a year, my father would come home with actual tickets for us to go up to Pittsburgh and see a game in person. He always got us box seats right behind home plate so he could see the pitches fly in toward the catcher. He loved those seats. My brother and I hated them because there were fewer places in the stadium where you were less likely to be able to catch a foul ball.
It was in the ancient confines of Forbes Field that I first saw Willie Mays, Warren Spahn and Bill Mazeroski. It was there that I grew to love the green grass, the roar of the hometown crowd, and The Game.
The Game is more than the sum of its parts. It is the perfection of the transition from the world of the child to that of the adult. It is a nonstop procession of opportunities, successes and failures. All the players fail, but the game continues and gives them another chance. The uniforms are the players’ armor, their holy vestments and the attendees introduction to the men behind the names on the scorecard.
In time I also began to appreciate those seats behind home plate and the iconography of keeping score. Then I could replay the game when there was snow on the ground and Spring Training seemed a lifetime away.
My own efforts to play the game were limited to pick-up games down at the baseball field next to the steel mill by the river. Through the grace of God I am right-handed, but for baseball I needed to be a quasi-southpaw. If I wore a Righties glove it was nothing more than a useless and heavy piece of leather. I needed to wear a Lefties glove that I could actually use to catch the ball. Then I would take off the glove, clutch it with my left arm, and throw the ball. I got to be pretty good at it.
At the time I had never heard of anyone else ever having to do that. I didn’t know about Pete Gray, the one-armed left fielder who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1945 and it was years before Jim Abbott made the Majors as a one-handed fireballing pitcher in the American League. As far as I knew I was one of a kind. My problem was hitting – I was just lousy.
At the ballfield where we played the Left Field fence was about 250 feet away, there was no fence in Right and in Center was “The Woodpile.”
The Woodpile was on mill property and was where they stocked lumber to make pallets and skids for shipping out steel. It was a mighty blow to get it into The Woodpile and there was the danger that you might never get the ball back and those things didn’t grow on trees, y’know.
One day I got ahold of a pitch and I launched the ball high into the air and to everyone’s amazement it made it into The Woodpile. Fortunately it bounced and went over and through the open mill doors. The steelworkers were always helpful and would hurl our baseballs back over The Woodpile into Center Field. I never, ever, came close to repeating that feat. It was, indeed, a one-shot deal.
I loved The Game, but I guess it didn’t love me. While I made a miserable player I became an excellent fan. When we got our first television in about 1953 I liked nothing better than watching “The Game of the Week.” Unfortunately, most of those games featured the Yankees, Giants or Dodgers. The Pirates rarely made it on. At that time they were, to be blunt, perpetually fighting to get out of last place.
In September of 1956 two major events took place; I had surgery on my left leg which kept me home for six weeks, and then, secondarily, there was The World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers. Such a cosmic coincidence – me home from school and the televised World Series. I rooted for the Dodgers. I always rooted for the National League team. Anything else would’ve been akin to treason. It was during this World Series that the Yankee pitcher Don Larson tossed a perfect game. 27 batters up and 27 batters down – Perfection. It was the first time there had been a perfect game pitched in a World Series. It hadn’t happened before and hasn’t happened since. I was in baseball heaven that day. Keep your 60 inch flat screen HDTV Home Theater. It could never get any better than that autumn day in 1956, on a black and white 12 inch Philco brand screen.
I just love The Game.
Some people complain about baseball, saying that the pace of the game is so slow. They find it boring. These are the same people who stand in front of their microwave ovens and yell, “Hurry up, hurry up!”
Baseball is a 19th century game played at a 19th century pace. It is not a videogame. It is not football. It is not Indy car racing. It is a game where there is no clock. A game might last two hours or more than six. The game is played until there is a winner. The game can be delayed by rain or even cut short, but both sides resent that. Rarely is a game altogether cancelled. It is just too important. Even though the season is 162 games long, that one game can have earthshaking repercussions. Titles must be decided, records broken, strategies played out. A winner must be determined – until the next game.
“It’s a beautiful day – Let’s play two!” The words from the soul of Ernie Banks, one of The Greats, who understood that The Game is important and worth the effort to strive for perfection.
I was an awful player, but I always gave it my all and strove for perfection. Some people have said that Baseball is a metaphor for life. I think it may be the other way around.
God, I love The Game.