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Baseball’s back, and all is right with the world


Old Baseball and Glove on Faded WoodWatched some baseball on TV last night and woke up feeling rested and optimistic. Switching channels to the NCAA finale also was good for the mood, but the big credit goes to baseball. If you’re watching baseball, you’re either retired or you worked your day out just right.

Watching baseball is like reading a good book. It takes patience to get to the really good parts, and the good parts make you forget about the waiting. Watching baseball is like weeding the garden. It’s incremental and rewarding in a subtle way. At the end of the furrow, nothing has been created but something has been accomplished.

Baseball is an old movie, black and white even when it isn’t. You may have seen the pre-season TV commercials for the Giants, showing the end of last year’s World Series mostly in black and white. Good commercials.

Because I like baseball, I suppose I should like soccer. Like baseball, soccer is a process. What happens in the third inning, or the tenth minute, sets the stage for what happens in the seven inning or the final minute. But they’re always moving in soccer and there aren’t enough pauses, fresh starts. And if you didn’t run around soccer fields when you were a kid, the game doesn’t have the nostalgic appeal of baseball.

I was, of course, one of the worst baseball players ever. My little league was on an Air Force base. There were four teams each year, the Flyers, Jets, Rockets and Pilots. Hats were blue, red, green and yellow, in that order. No one wanted to be a Pilot because of the yellow. My best friend was the best player and he had enough pull with the coaches to save me from the yellow.

I like basketball, too, but football not so much. Football fans are too loud. And football players are almost anonymous with all that hardware welded onto their helmets. In baseball, you can see faces. Hunter Pence should be seen. You recognize your favorites by the way they stand at the plate.

Football players have to rest up for a week. Baseball players play all the time. If you miss a game, no worries, there will be another one tomorrow. If you can’t watch, they’re worth listening to on the radio. If only there was a way to have Vin Scully talk us through every game.

It would be better if there were still double-headers. Your day was baseball and nothing else except for getting there and back.

3d rendering of a Baseball on a pitchers mound

Baseball is a warm evening, a sip of whiskey, a poem that makes sense the first time through. It doesn’t have to be pro ball. Knowing that the boys of summer are millionaires washes some of the charm away, so a high school game, an American Legion game if they still have those, even a softball game at the schoolyard down the street is worth a few minutes or a few hours.

Some of my friends love to memorize the numbers of baseball, the batting averages and the obscure statistics like number of times reaching base against a left-handed pitcher from another hemisphere. TRBLPHs, for short. They like to argue about baseball. Roberto Clemente or some other fellow?

I don’t have a head for that stuff. But I can remember in great detail how Mickey Mantle looked catching a deep fly while we watched it on TV and my dad ate pretzels and clam dip and drank Oly beer and forgot just for a while to be upset about this or that. I remember Dizzy Dean singing the Wabash Cannonball during the seventh-inning stretch and my dad waking up and singing along, like we didn’t have a care in the world.


The day baseball left Oral Roberts almost speechless


A baseball card commemorates the day Larry Bird pretty much ruined a funeral

Some baseball fans were tickled by comedian Will Ferrell’s publicity stunt Thursday, which saw him taking the field to play his own form of ball for various teams at spring training. Others were appalled, calling it disrespectful, forgetting first that A. It’s just a game and B. The season hasn’t even started yet.

Just for the record, I know of a baseball-related publicity stunt that turned into something much more disrespectful.

It was the spring of 1979 and I was a reporter for the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. Back then, the Journal-Gazette made no effort to hide its status as the Democratic paper in a two-newspaper town. The competing News-Sentinel was the grumpy GOP standard bearer, to the point of practically inventing Dan Quayle.

Anyway, Birch Bayh was the popular Democratic senator and he had been that forever. Nearly as popular was his wife, Marvella, who was an active player in public affairs and Democratic causes despite lingering illnesses and injuries stemming from an auto accident and a plane crash that injured Ted Kennedy.

Mrs. Bayh was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1971 and, after recovery, became a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society. The cancer returned in 1978, and she died on April 24, 1979. She was only 46.

I was assigned to cover her funeral, though it was all the way across the state in Terre Haute. The service was in an old, large brick church on the edge of the Indiana State University campus. The press corps was large that day, at least a couple of dozen, with several TV cameras included. The church was packed. I sat in the balcony.

The eulogy was by Mrs. Bayh’s favorite preacher, Oral Roberts. My recollection was that he was about halfway into it when it happened.

From my perch, I saw that several of the reporters were leaving. One by one, the TV cameras filed out as well, quickly. There was quite a stir down below. Roberts was obviously perplexed.

As a longtime practitioner of pack journalism, I ventured outside to see what was up. One of the local reporters clued me in.

“It’s Larry Bird,” he said, excitedly.

“What about Larry Bird?” I asked.

I knew quite a bit about Larry Bird because he was one of the two biggest stars in college basketball that year. Just a month earlier, he had led the Indiana State Sycamores to a second-place finish in the NCAA championship, losing a close final game to a Michigan State team led by Magic Johnson.

“He’s playing baseball,” the local replied.

“Huh?” I replied, thinking he had said basketball.

“He’s playing baseball right now. You’d better get over there.”

Like the rest of the pack, I made my way a couple of blocks to the baseball field, where the story unfolded.

Bird, all 6-feet-8 of him, was playing first base that day for the Indiana State baseball team. He was a good baseball player, with two hits that day, but he wasn’t part of the team. It was a stunt to help build a crowd and some publicity for the Sycamore baseball squad.

There was no reason for me to stick around. The wire services would provide my paper with more than it needed to know about Bird’s baseball prowess. So I scooted back to the church.

Oral Roberts was just finishing his eulogy and sermon, a performance that surely topped Bird’s on that day. I was one of the first reporters to return to the church, and there were regular funeral-goers who wanted to know what was up. I told them. A couple were amused, at least a little, but most were upset, more upset than anybody got when Will Ferrell took the field Thursday.

Can’t say as I blame them.