More to Life Than Baseball? Sez Who?

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At
the beginning of another baseball season, I remember how quickly
I fell out of favor with the school librarian on my very first day
as a high school freshman.

"Do
you carry The Sporting News?" I asked innocently enough,
hoping to be able to read the "baseball bible" at school
as well as home.

"No,"
the librarian said, pulling himself up to his full 5′ 1″(approximately)
and glaring at me through his Coke bottle glasses. "We used
to, but we don't anymore," he said in a slow, even voice. "We
found it attracted the wrong kind of element – you know, the
locker room crowd."

"Oh!"
I said. "We certainly wouldn't want them in here." I realized
I had worn out my welcome and I bid him good day.

If
I were to see that librarian today, I might like to tell him that
baseball, one of the great passions of the "locker room crowd"
(We had other passions, too, but I was sure our librarian wouldn't
want to hear of them), affects every subject touched upon by any
book in that library. Baseball may seem at times to be excessively
about numbers – batting averages, home runs, earned run averages,
home records, road records, percentages for day games and for night
games, on real grass and on artificial turf, yadda, yadda, yadda.
But baseball is really about life and death, because it is about
the people who have played, watched and loved the game, all those
still living and the greater number who are, as the Old Professor
used to say, "dead at the present time."

It's
about love and hopelessness. Whenever I hear Karen Carpenter sing
in the Carpenters' recording, "Goodbye to Love," that
"the only thing I know of love is how to live without it,"
I think of Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer telling his Hall of Fame
manager, Earl Weaver: "The only thing you know about pitching
is, you couldn't hit it!" It's about courage, which Hemingway
defined as "grace under pressure." For courage, it's hard
to beat last year's amazing post-season pitching performance on
torn tendon by Curt Schilling, star of Boston's "Red Sock of
Courage."

It's
about death, which comes to all players in life's game. (As Archie
Bunker explained to his wife, "Somebody's gotta be dead, Edith,
that's life.") Surely, no one ever faced death more courageously
than the great Lou Gehrig, who before dying at age 37, told a sellout
crowd at Yankee Stadium: "I feel like the luckiest man on the
face of the earth."

And
baseball is even about sex, which is why we find Rafael Palmeiro
on TV, hawking Viagra. It's why we find a Boston Herald columnist
repeating a line about how Ted Williams, the great Boston slugger,
"batted .344 on the field and .844 off it." (I find it
hard to believe that nearly 16 percent of the women he "hit
on" sent Ted back to the bench hitless.) It's why in "Play
it again, Sam," we find Woody Allen explaining to Diane Keaton
why he liked to think about Willie Mays when doing something spectacular,
like making love. "I was wondering why you kept yelling, u2018Slide,
slide!'" she said.

It's
about good guys like New Hampshire natives Mike Flanagan, Steve
"Bye, Bye" Balboni, Bob Tewksbury and Chris Carpenter,
as well as wacky guys like Bill "Spaceman" Lee, who says
he's opposed to mandatory drug testing because: "I tested them
all in the Eighties and I don't think it should be mandatory."
It's about an even wackier guy, and a far better pitcher, named
Dizzy Dean, who vehemently denied he ever put any "foreign
substance" on the ball. "Anything I put on the ball is
made right here in the good ol' US of A," said the patriotic
"Diz."

It's
about men like former Red Sox pitcher Dennis "Oil Can"
Boyd, whose reaction to a game called off because of fog at Cleveland's
Municipal Stadium ranks as one of the classics of baseball commentary:
"That's what they get for buildin' a ballpark on the (bleep)in'
ocean, man." It's about Casey Stengel, the aforementioned "Old
Professor," who was "no doubt discharged" as manager
of the New York Yankees when the top brass decided the team needed
a younger manager. "I'll never make the mistake of bein' 70
years old again," Casey promised.

Nor
will I, if I should live so long. "Art is long and time is
fleeting" as a right-handed poet named Longfellow (following
Horace) wrote. The players grow old, but the crowd is forever young
– and impatient. As John Fogerty sings on his memorable recording,
"Centerfield," we're "born again, there's new grass
on the field!" Yes we fans have had our spring training, too.
Put us in, coach.

We're
ready to play – today!

April
4, 2005

Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny (send
him mail
) is a freelance writer.

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