Wednesday, June 24, 2009

“First Love, Baseball; Initial Assignment in College and Coach Enos Slaughter”

One of the questions I get asked a lot is this: What sport do you enjoy most? Most people expect the answer to be college basketball or golf. As it happens, I love both and enjoy covering both although I know I’m on a short list of people who would rather cover The Patriot League championship game than the ACC championship game.

But the sport I love the most, strictly as a fan, is and always has been baseball.

Maybe it’s because it was the first sport I played as a kid or maybe it’s because the very first sports even I went to was a Yankees-Indians game at Yankee Stadium. My mom took me to that game but by the time I was in fifth grade I was riding the subways to both Shea and Yankee Stadiums.

While I love walking into a packed gym on a cold winter night, there’s nothing quite like the aesthetics of a baseball game, especially on a pretty spring day or a comfortable summer night. I like the way it FEELS.

My ex-wife once made the comment that baseball is ubiquitous. She meant it as a putdown as in, “why the hell can’t I get away from it for five minutes.”

To me it is that ubiquity that makes it so much fun. Baseball is there pretty much day and night from March through October. I still haven’t come into the 21st century and gotten satellite radio but when I’m in the car at night here on the east coast I can pick up ballgames from all over the place: The Mets and Yankees are on 50,000 watt stations and so are the Phillies and Red Sox (WTIC in Hartford). Often I can get the Indians, sometimes the Pirates and of course the Nationals and Orioles when I’m near home. On clear nights the White Sox are an easy get and I can also get the Reds and Cubs.

I DO have the baseball package on TV which is great except that the ability to flip from game to game has cut back on my keeping score. When I was a kid I kept score of almost every Mets game when I was at home. Before we were married I showed my wife what cleverly called, “My Baseball Records,” folders of every game I’d kept score of through the years. She went through with the marriage anyway. She can’t say she wasn’t warned.

To this day, I can honestly say there are few things in the world I enjoy more than sitting in a ballpark keeping score. Now, as when I was a kid, there’s no purpose to it, I just like doing it. I find it relaxing.

I have to say this though: I just can’t wrap my arms around the College World Series. I’ve had friends who have covered it say it’s a great event and I know the players are good and the competition’s terrific.

I just can’t deal with the metal bats. Every time I hear that pinging sound my first throught is, “this isn’t baseball.” Maybe that’s a reflection of my age or my inflexibility but it just doesn’t feel real to me.

It isn’t as if I don’t pay any attention. I know Texas is playing LSU tonight for the championship and I can probably tell you the eight teams who made The World Series. I’ve even figured out how the regionals and super-regionals work.

When I was in college, one of my first assignments as a freshman at the student newspaper was to cover the Duke baseball team—which was awful and has been awful for a long time. (This year was a breakthrough because the team qualified for the CONFERENCE tournament).

The coach was Enos Slaughter, the great “Country Enos,” Slaughter best known for his dash from first to home in game 7 of the 1946 World Series. He was a great guy but, well, kind of past his best days at that point.

One afternoon, I was leisurely watching Duke lose again when someone came charging out of the Duke dugout.

“Is there a doctor in the house!,” he screamed. (Seriously, that’s exactly what he said). “We need help down here!”

There probably weren’t 100 people at the game but someone was a doctor and he jumped up and headed for the dugout. My first thought was: “Oh My God, Coach Slaughter’s having a heart attack.”

I charged down to the dugout and sure enough he was flat on his back, the trainer kneeling over him as the doctor came running up to help.

“What happened?” the doctor asked, rolling up his sleeves.

“He swallowed his chaw,” the trainer said.

Sure enough, the old baseball guy’s chewing tobacco had somehow slipped down his throat. Enos was white-faced and pretty sick for a few minutes but he was fine soon after that.


Rob said...

John, I totally agree with you about college basketball. The reason why mid-major or even low-major basketball is so great is because it remains a healthy competition with less money, less corruption, and less exposure. Yet, the players are very talented and the participants care about the games passionately. The games matter, and don't suffer the vagaries of big time sports.

You take the Patriot League, I'll take the CAA.

Anonymous said...

too bad you don't root for a real team like the Red Sox