The Greatest Words in Sports

Posted: March 25, 2012 by hermutations in baseball
Tags: , , , , ,

Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, were created equal.

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It was the summer of 1987. I was 7 years old and going to my first Little League tryout. As my Dad and I pulled up to the field in our gray Chevy station wagon he asked me what team I was hoping to play for. I clearly remember his disdain as I said, “The Mets.”

The ’86 Mets had won the World Series Over the Boston Red Sox the fall prior, and while I have no clear memories of watching that fall classic, I do remember my boyhood idolization of Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, and Mookie Wilson. (I used to roll dollar bills….kidding.)

When I got back in the car at the end of the tryout, sure enough my blue T-shirt and white pants declared I was a Met. I don’t remember too much of that season except that my Dad would tell people that I led the team in RBIs. I’m sure that meant something other than runs batted in as he was a joker and I spent most of my rookie season leaving the dugout and trying to catch fish and other creatures in the two ponds connected by a spillway (to me it was a waterfall), that were located at the park.

My first clear memory of a World Series came later that fall as I watched Kirby Puckett’s Twins battle Ozzie Smith’s Cardinals with my Dad. At this point, the tumor that would eventually take his life was already growing in my Dad’s brain. He never saw me play baseball again.

Fast forward a few years. My Father gone, my Mom had begun dating the man who would become my second Dad. He too had tragically lost a spouse and was raising three boys on his own. Even though I had never had a brother before, Brad and I knew just how to kindle a brotherly relationship-we had a catch. On May 26, 1990, I, along with my future brother, dad, uncle, and cousins were among the 56,789 individuals who watched as the Philadelphia Phillies retired the legendary Mike Schmidt’s number 20. Until this point I flirted with the idea of baseball, now I was in love.

The summers that followed were filled with love of the game. Our town didn’t have a Little League but we did have a Youth League. The rules were a little more liberal-we could steal as soon as the ball left the pitchers hand and could play until we were 13. All teams were traveling teams and it was always a joyous occasion when we came back into town honking car horns to announce our victory. Especially when we squeaked out wins against other “13 year-olds” who happened to have mustaches already and just so happened to drive themselves away from the game.

The summer after seventh grade was especially sweet as our Strausstown Lions were undefeated through the regular season. We had been dismantling teams by regularly scoring 30+ runs per game. One thing about being the best however, is that everyone aims for you. Sure enough, Wolmelsdorf took it to us in the best-of-three championship series. What could’ve been a perfect season was marred by two losses.

While the season was done for Brad, me, and the rest of the Strausstown Lions, baseball was not. We would continue to play backyard baseball with the 6-8 kids our rural neighborhood could field.

By the time 1993 rolled around, being young for my grade had caught up with me (I started school when I was 4). I was physically smaller than most of my grade level peers and the skill level of the game passed me by. Still, there was that gang of roughneck, beer swilling, lovable losers anchored by “Nails,” “The Krukker,” “Dutch,” and “Wild-thing.” Brad and I had a laundry list of chores to do in order to help with our family’s home addition but we would pass the time listening in on Phillies’ games on the radio. To be sure, my life is richer having spent part of it listening to Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn tell the Phillies’ story each summer.

High School saw many other distractions that would take me away from the game I had grown to love but after my freshman year of college my interest was rekindled as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey Jr. battled for Roger Maris’ home run record. The energy and importance of McGwire’s 62nd home run was palpable as I sat in the IUP cafeteria and 100s of college students stood to their feet and applauded the moment. Several baseball road trips ensued as a result.

Almost a decade later I called my Dad so he could put the phone up to the Phillies game on the TV. I had to hear him-I had to hear Harry Kalas make the call announcing the Phil’s would be National League East champions once again. It was the first time the Phillies would make the playoffs since I was 13 years old. I couldn’t fight back tears. The next year as Brad Lidge dropped to his knees after delivering the final strike to Brad Hinske I ran outside and set off some fireworks.

In the movie Moneyball, Brad Pitt plays Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. Near the end of the movie Billy asks, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” Indeed Billy, indeed.

Baseball is the American pastime. It’s apple pie, and lemonade. It’s the smell of French fries and hotdogs on a grill. It’s catching lightning bugs and running around barefoot. Baseball is a bike ride and a fishing hole. It’s “Keep your eye on the ball!,” and “HIT YOUR CUTOFF!” and “Quit making spit puddles!” It’s, “Go pass the hat,” and “Please return foul balls to the concession stand for a 25 cent treat.” It’s all that’s good and right and in the words of George Will, “baseball is heaven’s gift to mortals.”

Opening Day will take place in Japan on Wednesday. Some might argue that this is a shame because baseball is “America’s game.” But as I look back on the indelible marks baseball has left on me, and thinking about what great trials the Japanese people have endured over the past year after a tragic earthquake and subsequent tsunami, I only hope some kid over there is not only creating a fond memory in the midst of what may otherwise be an incredibly tumultuous time in his life, but also beginning a life long love of the greatest game ever played.

The greatest words in sports? “Play ball.”

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Comments
  1. hermsworld says:

    Reblogged this on hermsworld and commented:

    A piece I wrote for that greatest of sports blogs: HOFWorthy…

  2. Andrew VH says:

    Spent many evenings watching my Bucco’s… Lose. it was worth it though! Great Post!

  3. briana says:

    It could be baseball or any other sport. It could be nature or food…all things given to us by a kind God for our enjoyment. I did love re-living some of our growing up years reading this post. It’s funny how different a rememberance you have from me of the same set of circumstances. I don’t remember all that much about baseball. ha. 😉 But, I love sharing in your joys nevertheless.

  4. Aunt Judie says:

    Jay I loved this wonderful memory. Shed a few tears as well.

    Love you all

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