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It must have been hard for my father to dash my eight-year-old dreams, his voice quivery as he assured me that I would not grow up to play second base for the Yankees. He replaced (or tried) my bat and glove with a tennis racquet, and we set out together to hit another kind of ball. But I still have my glove just in case. I’m a baseball fan.
Everyone knows that issues of excess surround organized sports on every level. But this little essay is not about those issues. It’s about generations of family members and friends donning matching team hats or shirts to wear to the game (and oiled mitts to catch the foul ball), or to watch it together on TV; “strangers” high-fiving in the bleachers at a sliding outfield catch…made by the opposing team; “strangers” on the bus asking “did you see that catch?” And all this fun at all levels of play. This year’s University of Virginia baseball team rewarded fans with laughter, teamwork and a trip to the College World Series. At the stadium that I frequented with my grandfather, the Richmond Squirrels compete in AA baseball spurred on by giddy cheers of “Go Nuts!” Vin Scully broadcasts an LA Dodgers game in his 65th season, inviting listeners’ imaginations to paint pictures. A few friends and I learned this week about Little League’s one and only perfect game pitched in 1957 by Monterrey Mexico’s Angel Macias:http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-little-league-world-series-only-perfect-game-12835685/?page=1. What an opportunity to look at the US then and now, and of course to recall childhood pickup games.
I find it peculiar that baseball fans have so much “splainin’ to do.” Eyes roll with dismissal of love for these slow-moving, sometimes rain-delayed games. Roger Angell’s words on any topic never, ever disappoint—it’s a delicacy reading his essays on baseball—and Tom Verducci’s poignant, tenderly irreverent tribute in Sports Illustrated, “The Passion of Roger Angell,” doubled the pleasure: http://www.si.com/mlb/2014/07/22/roger-angell-tom-verducci-hall-fame. As a self-described “nut” of a fan and baseball’s adoring scribe for a half century, Angell captures the glee of the devotee: “…the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball….” While acknowledging many looks of “amused superiority and icy scorn” for such late night dancers, Angell makes a persuasive case that today such caring, about anything, is itself rare and worth preserving. I’m with Roger. Exercise for the heart…keeping it young.
Two good friends serve as happy volunteers in Valley League Baseball, their home team the Waynesboro Generals. All the players are college students with high hopes of making it to the “show,” the major leagues, but for this summer these ballplayers make their home in a small community. Chris thrilled as the play-by-play announcer for the championship game. He stands tall wearing his Mickey Mantle jersey. You know, all work and no play….