A nice shot of Dodger Stadium, a place where I have been over fifty times and which has provided many good baseball memories for me. Photo courtesy of salesianalumni.com
IN COMMEMORATION OF THE START OF BASEBALL SEASON, HERE’S A REPRINT OF AN ARTICLE THAT WAS WRITTEN ON THE BLOG HARTLANDCHRONICLES.COM ON APRIL 9, 2015 – ALMOST EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO!
I vividly remember the time I first got truly attached to was – at least until football took over in the 1980s and 90s – widely considered America’s national pastime…
I was in October, 1977.
I was a ten-year old fifth grader attending school and basically being a kid, basically doing what pretty much every other 5th grader did.
I was previously exposed to baseball, thanks to my obsession with the Peanuts comic strip and cartoon as they periodically played the game (very badly).
But when the local team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, appeared in the World Series, that was it for me.
Especially when Reggie Jackson hit those three home runs in Game 6 that won the championship for the New York Yankees; I strongly disliked those navy blue pinstripers from the Bronx for quite a while afterward and remember wanting to be a major league baseball player solely for the chance to avenge them Bombers.
This newfound love of baseball intensified when I visited Dodger Stadium for the first time on my 11th birthday, as I clearly recall Davey Lopes stealing four bases and Don Sutton pitching a 5-0 shutout over a team that hasn’t even existed for over a decade as they now play their home games in Washington D.C., the Montreal Expos.
My playing little league was a mere formality after that, but that’s a different story.
The Taj Mahal of American sports – the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, where every fan of the game should make a pilgrimage to at least once as part of their “Bucket List”
Of course like 99.999% of those who aspire to such, becoming a big leaguer didn’t work out for me as with my lack of throwing ability throughout those formative years, I had less than no chance of ever collecting a (very large) paycheck to wear a major league uniform and play in Dodger Stadium.
Or any big-league stadium for that matter.
Heck, I was one of the first people cut from my high school team during tryouts while in the 10th grade, and deservedly so!
But that didn’t stop my affection, or obsession, of the game as I continued to play in the local Colt League – geared towards high school aged players – for a couple of years, then set off on a two-decade career coaching youth baseball and softball, experiencing both good and bad times and learning valuable lessons on how to work with people, young and otherwise, along the way.
Along with the fact that I have played pick-up softball on weekends for the past two decades, and continue to do so for the exercise and enjoyment it brings.
I suppose you are wondering why I consider baseball my favorite sport to play and, along with college football, one of my favorite sports to watch.
Being that it’s approaching four decades since that baseball bug bit me,
And now that I’m considered by American society a middle-aged man as I fast approach my fifties,
I’ve given a lot of thought to the appeal that baseball still has over me.
Dodger pitching legend Sandy Koufax celebrating with Johnny Roseboro
HERE’S WHAT I BELIEVE THAT APPEAL IS…
I see the game as something akin to a combination of a lifelong friend from childhood and a large heavy quilt that you wrap yourself up with on cold days and feel quite cozy in.
In other words, baseball gives me a feeling of comfort that I don’t get while watching basketball or football, despite the pigskin squad of my alma mater, UCLA, being among my favorite teams in all of sports along with the Dodgers and the UCLA Women’s Gymnastics team.
This sense of comfort and old school familiarity was particularly realized when HBO released a three-part documentary series called “When It Was A Game”, featuring film of major league ball players and games – often in rare color and some of the footage never before seen – spanning the 1930s through the 1960s.
It served as a once and for all reminder of why I loved the game, rebooting that love along with Ken Burns’ classic “Baseball” documentary on PBS, detailing its history and how it evolved from something played in pastures to a billion-dollar business.
AS FOR WHY I FEEL BASEBALL STILL MATTERS DESPITE FOOTBALL’S IMMENSE POPULARITY…
It has a historical aspect that neither football nor any other sport can match in that the appreciation of the game is often passed down through generations.
As an example, I fondly remember my grandfather joking about when he pitched on his slow pitch softball team, his fastball was so slow that he could throw it and be on the other end to catch it.
Bob Costas expressed it perfectly in Ken Burns’ “Baseball” when he mentioned how in football, the hardcore fan doesn’t know what Walter Payton’s career yardage total was or what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s final point total was, or what Wilt Chamberlain’s was when Kareem passed him in 1985.
To add to Costas’ point, the die-hard hockey fanatic wouldn’t know what Wayne Gretzky’s career goal total was, or what Gordie Howe’s was when “The Great One” passed him.
More importantly, those dedicated fans of those other sports wouldn’t care.
UCLA’s baseball team jubiliant over winning their first national championship at the 2013 College World Series in Omaha, NE
The casual baseball fans, the ones who can take the game or leave it and only follows the World Series if their local team is in it, would know that 1941 was the year of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams hitting .406.
They would know that 1947 was the year of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line with (then) Brooklyn Dodgers, along with Henry Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record with his 715th home run in 1974.
As well as Cal Ripken, Jr. surpassing Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played mark of 2,130 in 1995.
That historical angle, the way it has been an indelible part of this country’s culture for over 150 years, in my view clinches the argument of why baseball still matters and why it continues to hold a place of affection in my heart.
As such, I fully plan to continue my homage to the game by playing pick-up softball, as it allows me to stay connected to it, and attending at least one Dodger game as well as perhaps a UCLA baseball game, the cost of seeing the Bruins on the diamond being much cheaper than buying a ticket to the Dodgers’ palace in Chavez Ravine.
I suppose there are many folks who agree with me on the sentiments I’ve expressed regarding what I still consider this national pastime of ours.
But to those who don’t, who swear by the gridiron, the hardwood, the ice, or a combination of the three…
I hope they are able to understand, after reading this, the appeal that baseball still has in American and the charm that it provides, even if such appeal and charm is less than it was in previous generations.
In other words, although football has taken over in plenty of American hearts – check out the TV ratings that the Super Bowl generates every year…
Baseball still matters.
And as long as there is a United States of America, it always will.
The Big “A” outside of Angel Stadium in Anaheim; it served as an iconic scoreboard for Angels games from when the ballpark opened in 1966 until it was expanded for the NFL’s Rams in 1980.