Dodger Stadium, a place that I have visited countless times over the years
IN COMMEMORATION OF THE START OF BASEBALL SEASON, HERE I AM – VOICING MY SENTIMENTS FOR WHAT (unfortunately) USED TO BE THE NUMBER ONE FOCAL POINT OF SPORTS IN AMERICAN CULTURE BUT STILL HOLDS A CERTAIN APPEAL TO PEOPLE
I remember clearly the time when I first got truly attached to what was – at least until football and the NFL took over in the 1980s and 90s – widely considered America’s national pastime:
It was in October, 1977.
I was a ten-year old fifth grader doing what every other fifth grader did, attending school and basically being a kid.
Now I was always exposed to baseball thanks to the my obsession with the Peanuts comic strip/cartoon, as they periodically played the game (very badly), but when the local team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, appeared in the World Series, that was it for me.
Especially when Reggie Jackson hit those three home runs in Game Six that won the title for the New York Yankees; I strongly disliked those navy blue pinstripers for quite a while afterward and remember wanting to be a major league baseball player strictly so I can get a chance to avenge those Bronx Bombers.
That love of baseball only intensified when I visited Dodger Stadium for the first time on the day I turned eleven, as I vividly remember Davey Lopes stealing four bases and Don Sutton throwing a 5-0 shutout over a team that doesn’t even exist anymore as they now play their home games in Washington, D.C., the Montreal Expos.
My playing little league was merely a formality after that, but that’s another story.
Of course like about 99.999% of others who aspire to such, becoming a big leaguer didn’t work out for me as with my lack of throwing ability at that time and pretty much throughout my formative years I had less than no chance of ever collecting a (very large) paycheck to wear a major league uniform and play in Dodger Stadium – or any other kind of stadium for that matter.
Heck, I was one of the first people cut from my high school team, and deservedly so!
But that failed to stop my affection – and what to some seemed like an obsession – of the game as I continued to play in the local Colt League – geared toward high school-aged players – for a couple of years, then set off on an approximately two decade career coaching youth baseball and softball, experiencing both good and bad times and learning a lot of lessons on how to work with people – young and otherwise – along the way.
I suppose you are wondering why I consider baseball my favorite sport to play and one of my favorite to watch (along with college football).
Being that it’s approaching four decades since that baseball bug had bitten me, and now that I am considered a middle aged-man in American society as I approach my fifties, I’ve given a lot of thought to the appeal that baseball still has over me.
Here’s what I believe it is:
I see baseball as something akin to a combination of an old childhood friend that you are still in contact with and are fond of and a large heavy quilt that you wrap yourself up with on cold days and feel quite cozy in.
In other words, I get a feeling of comfort that I don’t get when watching basketball or even football, even though one of my three favorite teams along with the Dodgers is the football squad of my college alma mater, UCLA.
This sense of comfort and familiarity was particularly realized when HBO released a three-part documentary series in the 1990s called “When It Was A Game”, which featured film of major league baseball players and games – often in rare color and sometimes never before seen – spanning the 1930s through the 1960s.
Josh Gibson, legendary Negro Leagues catcher for the Homestead Grays who in my book was the best hitter who ever lived, hitting over 900 home runs during his career
It reminded me once and for all why I loved the game, and rebooted such love in a sense, along with Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary on PBS, detailing the long history of the game and how it evolved over the decades from something played in pastures to a business generating billions of dollars.
As for why I feel the game still matters:
It has a historical quality and context to it that no other sports – including football – can match in that the appreciation and love of baseball has often been passed around through generations; I recall fondly my grandfather joking about how when he pitched on his softball team, his fastball was so slow that he can throw it and be on the other end to catch it.
Historically, broadcaster Bob Costas expressed it perfectly in Ken Burns’ “Baseball” when he talked about how in football, the hardcore fan wouldn’t know what Emmitt Smith’s career yard total was or how in basketball, the avid fanatic wouldn’t know what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s final point total was, or what Wilt Chamberlin’s was when Kareem passed it in 1985.
And to add to Costas’ point, the die-hard hockey fan wouldn’t know what Wayne Gretzky’s career goal-scoring total was, or what Gordie Howe’s was when the “Great One” passed it.
More importantly, the crazed fanatics of those other sports, the ones who go to every game and get extremely depressed over any setbacks their team suffered, wouldn’t care.
But the casual baseball fan, the one who could take the game or leave it and only follows big events like the World Series, would know very well how 1941 was the year that Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games and Ted Williams hit over .400, the last man to do so, and that 1947 was the year of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line, along with Henry Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974.
As well as Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record of 2,130 in 1995.
That, I feel, clinches the argument of why baseball still matters and why I still hold an affection for it.
As such, I plan to go to at least one Dodger game this season – the next one will be my 50th, dating back to that first game I saw in Chavez Ravine on my 11th birthday – and to check out a college game or two and maybe a high school one, since I have an old friend whose son is on a local varsity team.
I also plan to continue playing in pick-up softball games, as I have done for nearly twenty years, mostly for the exercise but to also keep the feeling of being involved with something that I have really liked, if not loved, for roughly four-fifths of my life.
I reckon there are many folks who would agree with me on all of these sentiments.
But to those who don’t, hopefully they will understand after reading this the appeal that baseball still has in America; even if it is less than what it was and even though football has taken over, baseball’s appeal to this country’s culture continues to exist.
And it won’t go away.
Some action from the Dodgers’ recent Opening Day win over the San Diego Padres