Baseball is …
Opening Day! That glorious time of year when winter thaws, spring sunshine arrives, hope springs eternal, and every team believes it has a chance to become the Miracle Braves of 1914.
Baseball is the dog days of summer, a daily companion, slowly unfolding each season’s stories through daily dramas, piquing our interest for the crowning October which awaits.
Baseball is Henry Aaron strolling up to the plate, implements of destruction in one hand, batting helmet in the other, tossing away the extra bats, donning the helmet, and stepping into the batter’s box, turning those magic wrists, and slamming baseballs until they were lopsided.
Baseball is Willie Mays making a basket catch in center, adding drama to a routine play. It’s Mays rounding second in full flight, cap blown off his head, sliding into third on a single to left.
Baseball is the endless debate over whom was better, Aaron or Mays.
Baseball is Don Drysdale, the tall right-hander with the crooked-arm delivery, knocking down Mays during their initial encounter in virtually every game in which they met.
Baseball is the ’27 Yankees, Murderers’ Row, winners of 110 games and the American League pennant by a whopping 19 games, before sweeping the Pirates in the World Series. Babe Ruth hit 60 homers, a mark that would stand for 34 years. Lou Gehrig hit 47 and knocked in 173. The Yankees hit 158 homers; the Giants, with 109, were the only other team to hit over 100. And their pitching staff led the majors in ERA.
Baseball is the ’54 Indians, as they were known back then, breaking the Yankees record with 111 wins, and then getting swept by the Giants in the Series. The Series where Mays made a catch “which must have seemed like an optical illusion to a lot of people,” according to announcer Jack Brickhouse.
Baseball is the ’69 Mets, perennial losers who stormed down the stretch, winning 38 of their last 49 games, defying all odds and beating the mighty Orioles in the Series. A team so “in the zone” that they probably could’ve beaten the ’27 Yankees that October.
Baseball is The Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese on Saturday afternoons. “Podnahs, are ya thirsty?” Back in the Dark Ages of the early ‘60s, that was our only chance all week to see a big-league game. All-Star games and World Series excepted, of course.
Baseball is the marvelous voices who join us in our reverie all summer. Local legends like Ernie Johnson, Skip Caray, and Pete Van Wieren. But on clear nights with a transistor radio in hand, you could listen to Harry Caray, Ernie Harwell, Bob Prince, Chuck Thompson and Harry Kalas.
You’d hear Mel Allen during the Series, because the Yankees were always there. And maybe Red Barber, or the fabulous Mets triumvirate of Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner. And Vin Scully. Wow. What would you give to be able to pull up a chair and spend a couple of hours listening to Vin Scully call a game?
Baseball is the 2004 Red Sox, who broke an 86-year drought by finally winning the Series, and in the process reduced this correspondent to tears. Never thought I’d live to see the day. And after decades of wondering what it would feel like if they ever won, having FOX sports deliver an immediate answer. They couldn’t resist ending the telecast with a montage of all the Red Sox failures past: Johnny Pesky holding the ball in ’46, Bob Gibson in ’67, Bucky Dent in ‘78, Bill Buckner in ‘86.
Watching, I realized: none of it hurt any more.
Baseball is the Cubs topping the Sox by breaking a 108-year Series drought in 2016, thus qualifying Theo Epstein for statuary in two cities.
Baseball is Roger Angell, in his marvelous collection of stories which comprise the book, “The Summer Game,” recalling a chat with Earl Weaver. The heavily favored Orioles had just lost the ’69 Series. Down three games to one, Weaver’s Orioles jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Game 5, only to have the Mets storm back and win, 5-3. Weaver was asked if he thought his Orioles would hang on and send the Series back to Baltimore.
“You can’t sit on a lead, run a few plays into the line, and just kill the clock,” Weaver replied. “You’ve got to throw the ball over the g-----n plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”
Baseball is a mom filling out the lineups for the All-Star Game, so that her 8-year-old son can keep score for the first time.
Baseball is that same 8-year-old boy running home from his Y-Guys football practice at Hammond School in Sandy Springs, bursting through the den door and hearing his Mom exclaim, “The Dodgers beat the Yankees, and Koufax struck out 15!” The Dodgers would sweep that ’63 Series, which remains the first one that boy remembers watching. With his mom, who instilled in him an eternal love and passion for the game that has never dimmed.
Thank you, Mom.