Every spring is a new beginning – the slate is washed clean. The hopes and dreams of fans overcomes last year’s statistics. We want our team to win. What is it about baseball that captures our hearts and made it America’s Favorite Pastime?
In the late 19th century baseball became the most popular pastime in America. The television and internet were a long way off. Americans wanted something to do with their free time. People could strike up a conversation with anyone about baseball. Kids played it; it was the national common denominator that everyone could relate to. Since then other sports have become popular with the advent of television. Some polls say football and basketball are more popular now. But when you look at attendance records and the number of games played, baseball still leads the pack. Why do people like to go to ballgames when you can watch it on television? Is it the call of the Ump – s-t-e-e-r-i-k-e! Is it the crack of the bat when it finally connects with the ball? The thrill of watching your team’s players running the bases heading for home plate, or the collective sigh of the hometown crowd as we watch the ball veer at the last second into foul territory? Is it the fresh air, the smell of hot dogs and the call of the vendors? “Get your hot dogs here!”
I know why I loved going to the ballpark. I loved eating peanuts, crushing their shells and throwing them on the ground, the sound of them crunching under my feet. I loved looking up at the tiers of people, the organ playing, people singing and stomping their feet, but my favorite thing was keeping score. My father would buy us both score cards and pencils. I would sit down and hurriedly write the lineup for the game that day, trying to keep up with the announcer and score board. He said it was a great way to stay focused on the game. There was something very organized and neat about it. In the middle of all of the noise and movement on the field I was able to make sense of it all by keeping score.
Oh and it was in my blood.
How could it not be? The day I was born happened to be the fifth game of the World Series, when Don Larson pitched the only perfect game in MLB postseason and World Series history (Yes you know my age now.) After my birth during this auspicious occasion, my father went home to eat. He said he would return post haste. After hours elapsed he sheepishly walked in apologizing to my mother, who was not the least bit pleased about my father’s excuses. It was a no-hitter, and not just any no-hitter, it was a perfect game, in the World Series, my father would explain to me later. In a no-hitter a player can still make base by a walk or error for the other team. The rarity of a perfect game is no hits, no walks and no errors. Of course he had to watch the game, what was a fella to do?
~“There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem – once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit. ~Al Gallagher, 1971.”
Baseball was in my father’s blood. He played baseball all through his youth on the streets and sand lots of Covington, Kentucky, just as most kids did in their hometowns across America, back before the electronic age. In the 1930’s, a scout for the Cincinnati Reds saw promise in this 6’4” first baseman. Invited to try-outs for the team, he was thrilled to be able to warm up in the outfield with some of the regular players he admired and watched, growing up, from the stands. He later would tell me he was awestruck and didn’t play well, but they still offered him a position on a farm team which meant life on the road with little pay. His mother was a widow with five children and needed him home. She couldn’t let him sign the contract. He was heartbroken but he stayed to help support the family.
Although his dreams of being a major league baseball player were never realized, he did become the number one fan of the Cincinnati Reds followed by the Chicago Cubs. Due to this early indoctrination, I didn’t become a Cubs fan until much later but I recall the era of the Big Red Machine in the 70’s. From the stands of Wrigley Field and Reds Stadium, I watched with excitement as Pete Rose (Charlie Hustle) did just that to steal bases, his head first slide, a thing of courage and beauty. I was awed by Johnny Bench and his incredible catches behind the plate that would save the game for the Reds, along with watching other notables of that famous line-up play at their peak. From 1970-1976 the team had more World Series appearances than any other team in that decade. They won two World Series titles and were the only National League team in the last 75 years to win back to back championships. They made it look easy, but it took hard work, practice and a passion for the game.
Watching great baseball defies team affiliations to the ultimate lover of the game.
Throughout my life my father would inevitably answer one of my requests for advice with baseball analogies. “Life is a lot like baseball,” he would begin and follow with some quote. These may not be some of my Fathers, but I can almost hear him speaking them now:
~“Things could be worse. Suppose your errors were counted and published every day, like those of a baseball player.” ~Author Unknown.
~ “Life will always throw you curves, just keep fouling them off… the right pitch will come, but when it does, be prepared to run the bases.” ~Rick Maksian
~ “Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” ~Frederick B. Wilcox
My all-time favorite baseball saying came from my father, when I was running for office many years ago and had just finished a very hard and difficult board meeting. I went to him and was complaining about what had happened, when I started to cry. I waited hoping for a soft word or two to ease the pain. He finally looked up over his paper and said, “Life is a lot like baseball and just as in baseball… there’s no crying in politics!”
“There’s no crying in baseball!”~Tom Hanks – A League of their Own
It used to irk me, but in his own way by using his baseball analogies, he was able to communicate his advice, without getting personal and emotional, which he didn’t do. In the end I learned some good lessons with his use of analogies.
Life and baseball, every spring there is renewal, new grass emerges in our yards and on the field, the slate is washed clean, it’s a new season. We have hopes and dreams that this season will be better than the last. We hope we win.
Baseball will always be America’s favorite pastime in my opinion. Where else can we wile away three hours, in the outdoors, justify eating hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts and washing that down with a nice cold beer. Watch a leisurely game with a ball and learn some life lessons along the way. Sometimes in this serious, fast paced world we live in, isn’t it nice, for an afternoon to forget everything for 9 innings and be a kid again?
~“Don’t tell me about the world. Not today. Its springtime and they’re knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball.”~Pete Hamill
By the way, I am a long suffering Cubs Fan married to a Sox fan. Have pity on me.
What are your favorite memories of baseball? Drop me a comment and let me share your thoughts with other readers.