Archive for February 14th, 2009

Bob GibsonIt’s that time of the year.

Catchers and pitchers are reporting to spring training.  Baseball is in the air.

Baseball has always held a special place for me.  Oh, I was no more than an average player– decent bat, lousy arm and a so-so glove– but there was pure magic in seeing the heroes of my youth and hearing the stories of the early legends of the game.

I remember my grandmother telling me of going to NY in 1921 on their honeymoon to see Babe Ruth play.  Ruth hit a double and a triple as she recalled.

I remember sitting with my grandfather, the mythological Shank ,who used to call me  “The Rat,” and watching the  World Series in the afternoons after I had my tonsils out in 1968.  The St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Detroit Tigers and I was introduced to one of the heroes of my youth, Bob Gibson.

Gibby was it for me.  The toughest guy out there, one whose competitive fire is still legendary.   So dominating as a pitcher that baseball changed the mound height because they felt the hitters needed help since he was practically unhittable.  I read his early autobiography, From Ghetto to Glory, numerous times and that made him an even bigger hero to me.  He was eloquent and college-educated, a rarity for ballplayers of that era, and his story was compelling.  He remains a hero.

Baseball was always played at our house.  My dad was a pretty fair pitcher.  He would play catch with me and my friends and would break out his knuckleball.  It was uncatchable, having a spectacular drop that would appear to be entering your glove only to end up hitting you in the stomach.  I was never able to master the pitch but still appreciate a well thrown knuckler.

Other times, I would pitch to him and he would hit flies to my brother in the outfield.  Periodically, he would hit hard liners back at me.  They would bang off me or make me dive out of the way and he would cackle.  I would then try to drill him with the next pitch, which would make him laugh even more because he had gotten my goat.  I would calm myself and wait until he would pitch to me, waiting for the perfect pitch when I could send one back at him, making him duck or dive.

Over the years baseball has become my calendar for the passing of the year and is a comforting friend on the days when the world seems ready to implode.  I am still captive to the numbers and legends of baseball, one of those romantics who see poetry in a game based in tradition.

To that end, here is a wonderful version of Take Me Out to the Ballpark from Harpo Marx, played on I Love Lucy. It is delicate and graceful.  It’s the essence of the memory of baseball for me…

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