A Farewell to Baseball
Father’s Day has come and gone in this bizarre year 2020. With an abundance of absurdities all around us, I seek some semblance of normality. Scratch that; I need it. There is no easy healing for what is going on in the world, but sometimes just a small band-aid can buy enough time to gather your breath, clean the wounds, and move on. Baseball had a chance to help fix the engine that is America and other parts of the world, but instead it has taken a wrench and rendered it worse.
I grew up in western Maryland listening to the Baltimore Orioles on AM radio with my grandfather. Sitting on the porch of his farm house, both snacking on ice cream bars, living the game in our heads as Chuck Thompson described the action beautifully. My grandmother sitting in a swing knitting, crocheting, or doing needlepoint while mosquito coils burned slowly. We would listen for most of the innings before they would retire for the night. I would go to the guest room and listen to the ending. One benefit of being a young child is having energy galore.
During the summers, I would awake early and go help on the farm. Often my job was to pick the raspberries, and it was a sweet job. I got to keep 50% of everything the raspberries sold for! I would save up my money each year from the sales. Each spring, I would purchase the sporting news Baseball Spring edition, at minimum 5 wiffle balls, sometimes a new bat and a new helmet.
My best friend would come over on the weekends (thankfully I had those off), and we would spend all day Saturday and Sunday playing wiffle ball. Not just any wiffle ball, but our 2-person league. Every spring we would each pick 4 teams to play as during the season. I was always the California Angels (my favorite team when Doug DeCinces left Baltimore), Houston Astros, and would rotate the other teams. They usually included the Dodgers, Cardinals, Brewers, Orioles or the Tigers. My companion in this adventure would always pick the Yankees (his favorite), the Pirates, Red Sox, and rotate the Athletics, Orioles, Blue Jays, or the White Sox. I even still have most of the helmets from those days.
Each spring, we would look at the trades, the signings, the new guys, and work out our rosters. We would agree on the players’ base-stealing ability for the rules we had in order for our ‘ghost runners.’ Then we also watched This Week in Baseball, so we could catch glimpses of how the batters stood in the box, because that was important to us. So, at 10 and 11 (he was a year older than I), we learned how to bat lefty or righty so we could emulate the players perfectly. We even had different bats for use. Though typically 3 were your normal bats, taped up slightly differently, we had the home run hitters’ bat that we were allowed to use twice in a game. The sound of that bat when you connected, oh I can still hear it all these years later.
We kept box scores, played 6 inning games, and often would play 2 games a day. Often ending with watching whatever games we could watch, and catching highlights. Even staying up late to catch George Michael’s sports machine. We never did get the hang of pitching lefties, so most of our pitching staff were right-handed hurlers. We played fair, often giving the benefit of a close call to the defender, as it was just one-on-one. We laid tent poles as our fences, also trying to emulate a little of the ballpark we played in. Even going as far as putting up a piece of plywood in left for our games in Fenway. I still remember our typical distances to the fence. Left field was in the 80-90 range, left center was often in the 110-120 range, centerfield was a consistent 115 (the side of the house was centerfield), right center was 100-115, and right field was the oddity anywhere from 75-100 feet. Typically, the short porch of Yankee stadium was 75 feet.
We loved the game. As we got older, we still played, up until he graduated high school and went into the Army. Even that didn’t stop us from enjoying the game. Years had passed, our ability to see more games, get more box scores, and we even picked up a baseball board game, Statis-Pro. That game was a blast, always scared of the Z card, or the home run range of 31-38 for some hitters, or the year Ricky Henderson’s card read: Anytime gets a single from his card, automatically steals 2nd base. Every time you had a pitcher with less than a 2-10 range playing Henderson you were scared.
Through the years though, I would continue watching baseball. Always happy when the Angels were on national TV or playing the Orioles. Trying to go to Camden Yards every time the Halos came to town. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a game at the new stadium. It was awe inspiring. Far better than Memorial stadium was in nearly every way. I would always sit in right field, usually near the scoreboard, smelling the amazing Boog’s BBQ. (and of course, consuming said BBQ).
Then a few years later, the strike/lockout happened.
That tarnished my love of the sport. It quit being a game, and became a business in my mind. Not necessarily a bad thing, businesses are great, but the passion for the sport took a beating.
Cal Ripken was sitting at 2,009 consecutive games, just 122 games shy of breaking Gehrig’s mark. Though an Angels fan, I was still holding a candle for the Orioles in my heart thanks to my grandfather.
While my Angels were the worst team in baseball, we had the Expos as the best. The EXPOS! That team had some outstanding players, especially that outfield of Alou, Grissom, and Walker. That was exciting for a baseball fan.
Then it all went to hell.
Even when they came back it didn’t feel right. Sure, we got the explosion of the home run race in ‘98, Ripken passing Gehrig in ‘95, and the amazing pitching down in Atlanta with Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. There was just enough baseball heart that kept beating to keep me interested.
No longer was I playing wiffle ball, I was happily not single, playing hockey, but still would fire up my computer and play baseball games such as High Heat or, in more recent years, Out of the Park Baseball.
Baseball has always been at my core. With salaries inflating beyond incredible, the business side seemed to win more and more. But the on-field product was still pretty dang amazing. The old codger in me now would bitch and moan how stolen bases have gone the way of the dodo, how launch angles have become a thing, how we no longer have great pitchers, that they are now great throwers.
Analytics changed the game, not saying for the worse (though in some ways yes! But I’ll save that for another day). The season that was 2020 had already become tainted before it ever started. It should have been an alert for all of us just how messed up the year would become. The trash can scandal of the Astros, Red Sox, and as found out later, possibly the Yankees. Three great teams during this time. The contentious negotiations with the MiLB (Minor League Baseball), and off-season remarks about the future contract has given many a shared opinion that Rob Manfred hates baseball and its “piece of metal” World Series championship trophy.
The league just felt different to someone that would stay up late on the East Coast to watch his Halos play, even if that meant going to bed at 2 and getting up at 7 for work.
This stoppage however, something is different. Sure, there is a ‘pandemic’ going on. Some people are scared, some are not, some have to work while others are told to stay home. Tensions in the street have erupted. Oddly, baseball has been played through nearly everything outside of the commissioner, owners, and players stepping on their own feet.
Some may scream “COVID-19!,” but all reports are that the league and the players are close to an agreement on all accounts for health and safety purposes. It’s money and games played they are squabbling about. Trying to see which side blinks first while we fans are left with blank stares on our faces. We are approaching July and the NHL is about to have playoff hockey. HOCKEY will start up again before the Joy of Summer takes the field!?! Though with 11 recent cases, there may be wavering on the July 10th start up. Think about that. Gary Bettman and the NHL, notorious for really crappy PR, may be playing important games in summer and MLB is sitting at home. I never thought I’d see that day.
It is for this reason that I part ways with Major League Baseball as a fan. It’s been a good 40+ years, but I know an abusive relationship when I see it, and we fans are being abused.
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