The Old Ball Game

By Jeffrey Page

It is very cold this morning, but the snow turned out to be less catastrophic than anticipated. The sun is shining, the sky is a rich blue and a few minutes ago a guy on the radio uttered one of the lovelier phrases in the English language.

“Pitchers and catchers,” he said, and it turns out that after today it’s just 13 days until the start of spring training for the throwers and receivers. The Arizona Diamondbacks report on Feb. 6, the Mets on Feb. 15 and the Bronx team on Feb. 14. All this means that winter will soon be over; never mind what the calendar or the meteorologists say.

Several days after pitchers and catchers report, the position players arrive for spring training. Then, on March 30 there’s an opening-day game with Los Angeles playing Washington in Sydney, Australia. The traditional opening day will be on the 31st. VIPs will toss first pitches, some people with questionable ability will sing the national anthem, the cheering will commence when the vocalists reach “o’er the land of the free,” umpires will cry out “Play Ball!” and there will be happiness in the land.

Now is a wonderful time of year. For one thing, it proves that we’ve survived another winter, this one more frigid than most. It is a time to think about the next six months in our futures and to at least consider the possibility that all will be well.

For Mets fans, however, it is tinged with the aroma of disappointment. It’s a time of welcome, but of fear and slight resignation as well. In other words, a year like most other years for followers of the Mets. As in so many summers past we stand at the cusp of another season of hope, rage and ultimately (in all likelihood) grave disappointment. But wait, this is baseball and therefore we hope. Miracles happen in this game. Maybe this will be the year of surprise and delight. Maybe this is the year of another miracle in Flushing. God knows we deserve it. God knows we need it.

I love the game: a double play, a bunt (rare nowadays) that catches the infielders glued in place, a game-ending home run in the bottom of the ninth, a perfectly executed hit and run, the long afternoon of a pitcher refusing, inning after inning, to give up a first hit. Or, just sitting in the warm sun of spring. That’s another thing I like about baseball – the day games early in the season and into summer when you can sit and talk, have a beer and take in that sun.

I detest the business of baseball: the fact that if you take a kid to a game and add up the price of parking, tickets, a pennant or other souvenir, maybe a scorecard, a round of hot dogs and drinks, maybe something more substantial as the game progresses, you spend enough money to have made a mortgage payment. And it irks me that the slowest, clumsiest, most inept players demand salaries in the millions and that part of those salaries are partially underwritten by you and me when we buy tickets.

But it’s baseball and I can forgive a lot when the reward is to watch players execute those plays that I can only wish I could duplicate.

Because it is winter heading into spring, it’s a time of remembrance as well. It may be 59 summers since the Dodgers of Brooklyn defeated the Bronx team in the ’55 World Series, but still I am shocked when I look up the Brooklyn roster of 1955 and realize that of the 32 players listed, only nine are living.

That fabled infield of Reese, Robinson, Gilliam and Hodges, gone.

The outfield of Furillo, Snider and Amoros, gone.

Our catcher, Campanella, gone.

Among the pitchers, Podres, Labine, Loes, all gone. But the great Don Newcombe (who pitched a 27-7 season), Carl Erskine, Roger Craig, the kid Sandy Koufax (“the kid” is 78), Tommy Lasorda and Ed Roebuck are with us.

Why do I go back to these guys every spring? Why do I think of them almost as members of my working class family? That’s a subject for deeper thinking and another column.

Wait ‘til next year.


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One Response to “The Old Ball Game”

  1. Geoff Howard Says:

    There’s a difference between the Dodgers and the Mets. The Dodgers – Brooklyn of course – functional, competitive, and pretty much every year, contenders. Hence the mantra, wait ’til next year.

    The Mets are perennially dysfunctional – on the field and in the front office – wink-wink contenders for 3 or 4 months. Hence the mantra, oh god, there’s next year too.

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