Although last week was the official opening of Baseball Season here in the US, Charley and I decided to travel to Florida in March to start the season a bit earlier. (Teams hold their spring training games in warmer climates while up North it’s still deciding what season it wants to be – freezing cold one day, record high temps the next.)
Charley is a big NY Yankees fan, so we found ourselves, one warm evening, in the stands of Steinbrenner Field watching a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Yanks. We also were able to get tickets to see the Boston Red Sox play the Baltimore Orioles and The Atlanta Braves against the Houston Astros. It was fun sitting in the sun eating hotdogs and huge salted pretzels, washing it all down with an ice cold beer while it was snowing back home in Rhode Island.
Although I like baseball, I don’t have a favorite team. Instead, I have favorite players. This means I get to cheer for all of the teams. Players are always being traded or, as free agents, signing on with another team. There’s no loyalty in baseball, as far as I’m concerned. Very few players have remained with the same team throughout their careers. I’m constantly disappointed when the season rolls around and I’m watching a game on TV, waiting for a favorite player to come up to bat only to find he’s no longer with that team. By midseason, after all the trades, I’m forever grumbling that I don’t know half of the players on the field when they come up to bat and their names are flashed on the bottom of the television screen. Once, I was watching a game and the caption on the screen read “Key Matchup”. I yelled out, “Who the hell is Key Matchup?!” And then added, “Who would name their kid ‘Key Matchup’, anyway?” Charley just laughed and waited for me to figure out it wasn’t an actual player, just a caption about two key players facing each other at bat. I’ll probably never live that one down. It reminds me of the famous Abbott and Costello comedy routine, “Who’s on First?”
So, I have favorites. Nick Markakis played right field for the Baltimore Orioles for eight years. At my first game at Camden Yards in Baltimore, I was taking a picture of Markakis just as he hit a foul ball up to where we were sitting. I screamed and yelled at everyone to “Look out!” ducking down and covering my head. When I got up, I looked around and asked Charley where the ball had gone. He handed it to me. Great story!
Last year, Markakis became a free agent. He’s now playing for the Atlanta Braves along with another of my favorites, Nick Swisher. Swishy played for the Athletics, the Indians, the White Sox and then the Yankees before landing in Georgia. I got to see both of them play the outfield while in Florida in a game against the Houston Astros. (Last minute update:Swisher just got traded back to the Yankees.) They should have never let him go. Even if his legs aren’t as good as they used to be, he’s always laughing and brings a positive morale into a club house that sometimes is sorely needed. And rumors are that the Orioles’ powers-that-be are sorry they didn’t extend Markakis’s contract. Their right field is quite lacking without him there. I could have told them that! And if the Red Sox had called me for advice I would have told them not to waste their money on The Panda. (But who listens to me?)
I truly admire catchers like Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants.They have to call the shots; get regularly hit and beaten up by stray bats and balls; must calm down the pitcher at times; and remain in a crouched position through inning after inning. And then they’ve got to get up to bat like everyone else on the team. (Any woman out there knows how hard it is to get up from a crouched position.) I’m in awe.
One of my very favorites, Jorge Posada, was the Yankee’s Catcher for twenty years. Charley bought me a Posada Bobble Head and it’s the only bobblehead I’ll ever own. I won’t even take him out of the box.
My loyalty extends to entire families of players like the Molina brothers, Bengie, Jose and Yadier, all major league catchers. They’re the only three brothers in major league history to all win World Series Rings.
I really like baseball. Charley and I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I especially loved the section on the women’s professional baseball league during WWII, when young girls and women got their chance to play before large, cheering crowds. That day in Cooperstown, there were players from the Rockford Peaches Team signing pictures. I chatted with Ruth Richard #14 and Alice Deschaine #19 for a while. My favorite movie of all times, A League of Their Own, is about this team. I have the DVD. If you’ve never seen this movie, even if you don’t like baseball, it’s great. One of the best parts is the “There’s no crying’ in baseball “scene. I could watch it over and over.
I grew up in the Fifties in suburbia; Cape Cods and ranch houses on plots built for the families of the generation known as Baby Boomers. Neighborhood games of hide-and-go-seek, tag, rollerskating, hopscotch, bike riding, and baseball were played in the streets until our dads came home from work and our mothers called us in for dinner. On Saturdays in the late spring and summer, the smell of fresh-cut grass, screen doors slamming and the clacking of lawn mowers could be heard mingled with the voices of commentators like Red Barber and Harry Caray calling out the play-by-plays, Kate Smith singing ‘God Bless America’, and then the sounds of baseball ringing out. Transistor radio in windows and back yards all brought the greats, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roger Maris, and Jackie Robinson into our neighborhoods.
In the Doris Kearns Goodwin lovely memoir, Wait Till Next Year, she writes about her own similar childhood in the suburbs of Brooklyn, NY. It’s also a story of her beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, “Them Bums”, when Jackie Robinson became the first black player to integrate the American Baseball League.
Ken Burns’ latest documentary is on Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to integrate the American League. It’s not only a history of what baseball was like when I was growing up, but also the history of the beginnings of the Black Movement for equality here in the United States. After the years Robinson spent as first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he became an outspoken advocate for Equal Rights. He retired from baseball in 1957 after the Dodgers finally won the 1956 Pennant and just before the team was moved to California. He died in 1972 and forty-four years later this country still has not resolved the racial issues that have people pleading, “Black Lives Matter”. We could really use him now.
Baseball has been a part of life here in the United States since the 1800’s. Although the invention of the game is attributed to Abner Doubleday, this has been hotly disputed over the years. What is not disputed is the fact the game is deeply entrenched in our lives. It has had an influence in so many areas other than sports, changing the fabric of our society for those who love it and even for those who don’t.
So, until November – Bat ‘Er Up!