Friday, April 1, 2016

Baseball Thoughts

Baseball season is tantalizingly close. I will be happy to have my daily friend back in my life, a welcome distraction and easy to access obsession. As I get older, I dread the winter more and more. Each day is a reminder that everything dies, and that I will be down under the ground before too long. When baseball comes it comes with spring and Easter, signs of hope and regeneration.

One of my favorite songs on this theme is Frank Sinatra's "There Used To Be A Ballpark," which came out in the 1970s, well after his heyday, and is appropriately elegiac. Sinatra sings of a non-descript city block that once had a ballpark, and was full of joy and wonder. Those days are over, but the memories faintly remain. I've been thinking a lot about this song, since the ballpark in downtown Newark is due to be torn down. I see it every day during my commute, and looking at it in the winter has long been a way for me to dream of better times. I saw some games there, it was a good place, and I'm sad to see it go. I wonder if the people who will live in the high rise to be built there will smell a faint whiff of hot dogs or hear the crack of a bat talking in the wind.

The breeze yesterday was cool but pregnant with spring's life, the kind of air that can stir memories of my youth this time of year, much of which was spent collecting baseball cards.  Before the season started I'd be buying pack after pack of Topps, Fleer, Donruss, and Score. (I thought Upper Deck was ridiculously priced. I am my father's son.) I'd pore over the stats from the year before, and rank the players at there positions and come up with predictions for the season, written down and saved until the October. I've long stopped putting them in blog format, since I tend to be ridiculously wrong. I still remember the 1990 season, and thinking that the acquisitions of Mark and Storm Davis would put the Royals over the top for a championship.  Boy was that wrong. On the bright side, I never would have thought last March that there was any chance that the Mets would go to the World Series.

It's strange to think of what it was like to follow baseball in the 80s and early 90s. Nowadays due to my subscription and cable services I can see every single baseball game, and through the magic of DVR can even watch them after the fact with ease. My phone gives me real-time scoring updates, and allows me to look up any player's stat at any time. Back then, when baseball first put its hooks in me, things were different. I could watch all the Braves and Cubs games I wanted due to TBS and WGN, but for other games I relied on NBC's Game of the Week on Saturday and Monday Night Baseball (remember that?) on ABC. To get scores immediately I would tune into CNN Headline News at either 19 or 49 minutes past the hour, back when that station just ran a half hour newscast 24 hours a day. (I miss the esoteric days of early cable.) I could also wait for the nightly Sportscenter broadcast or for the box scores in the next day's paper. Speaking of the newspaper, the sports section of the Sunday Omaha World-Herald did a great service by printing a complete list of of all the players' stats up to that point in the season, as well as the team stats. That could occupy me for hours, much as does today. Baseball is often too laden with nostalgia, but in this case I have none. After all, who wants to go digging through newspaper box scores?

Speaking of the NBC Game of the Week, Joe Garigiola, one of that telecast's defining voices, passed away last month. More than any other sport, baseball relies on its broadcasters. The great announcers have to be narrators and conversationalists. Since there's 162 games, the folks you listen to on the radio or hear and see on TV have to be engaging and interesting enough, lest you get sick of them by August. The Mets have great TV and radio teams, which has made it easy to follow them. My favorite announcer, and probably the favorite of most hardcore baseball fans, is Vin Scully. He is set to retire after this season, after broadcasting Dodger games since 1950. To put that in perspective, he was calling games with Jackie Robinson and Stan Musial on the field. I first encountered him as a broadcaster for NBC in the 80s, both on Game of the Week and in the World Series. Thirty years ago he was already legendary, a fount of diamond wisdom. Scully also clearly understood how to enhance the events on the field without overshadowing them. (Notice how he calls Hank Aaron's record breaking homer in the clip above.) When the crowd went crazy he dialed it back, letting the moment speak for itself. He calls the games by himself, which feels like sitting down with a friend. Every now and then I watch a Dodgers game during the season just to hear him call it. I know I will be there this season to hear his last one.

No comments: