Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Opening day is right around the corner – amidst busy week, baseball is on my mind

So here we are in the midst of Sweet Sixteen week surrounded by everyone (including me) trying to psychoanalyze Tiger Woods and I find myself thinking about baseball this morning.

The weather finally turning warm is definitely a factor as is Dave Sheinin’s piece in today’s Washington Post about the Orioles trying to at last turn a corner after 12 straight losing seasons. Brigid, my 12-year-old daughter, is a huge Orioles fan in large part because she fell in love with The Bird mascot when she was about three-years-old and it occurs to me that the last time the Orioles had a winning season was in the year she was born.

Brigid is very optimistic about this season not so much because of the young pitching as because Miguel Tejada, long her favorite Oriole, has returned to Baltimore.

I’m not especially optimistic or pessimistic about any team at the moment although I do think the Nationals will be better and the Mets will be, um, the Mets. As one long-time Mets follower pointed out to me last week, the thing they needed to improve the most this off-season was their starting pitching and they did nothing. Their two best players, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, are going to start the season on the Disabled List. David Wright hit 10 home runs last season in Citi Field. Other than that…

There’s just something about baseball that makes me feel good. I can honestly say that there are few things in life I enjoy more than sitting in a ballpark on an afternoon or evening, watching a game and keeping score. I have to keep score. If I don’t I feel like something is wrong.

There’s more to it than that. Some has to do with boyhood memories—more connected to my mother than my father. My dad was never a big sports fan and what little interest he had in sports pretty much died when the Dodgers left Brooklyn. So, when I was little, it was often my mom who took me to games. She wasn’t a big fan either but she MADE herself a fan because I was a fan.

I’ve probably told this story before, so forgive me if you’ve read it already. One afternoon the Mets were doing something they rarely did—coming from behind. Down 2-0 to the Phillies in the bottom of the eighth, they shockingly pieced together a four run rally. When Cleon Jones singled in the tying and go-ahead runs (yes, I distinctly remember it was Cleon) my mom was right there next to me, jumping up and down, completely into it.

We were in good seats that day—back then you could walk up on game day, put down $3.50 for a box seat and sit between home plate and first or third base—and an usher walked by as the Mets took the lead, 3-2. He paused, look at my mom and said, “so which one is your husband?”

My mom thought it was cool that someone thought she was young enough to be married to a ballplayer.

The kid stuff is only part of it though, there’s more. As I’ve mentioned before, I love long car rides during spring and summer, especially at night, when I can flip the radio around from game-to-game. I’m so sick I enjoy PRE-game shows, even though they’re rife with commercials and managers saying, “we just have to come back ready to go tonight.”

My favorite pre-game interviews are between John Sterling and whomever is managing the Yankees. I like Sterling, he’s always been very nice to me, but I LOVE listening to him explain what happened the night before to the manager. In fact, whether it’s Joe Torre or Joe Girardi, their response to just about every “question,” is, “you’re right John…”

I was talking to Gary Cohen, who has done play-by-play for the Mets on radio and now on TV since 1989 (and is, as far as I’m concerned as good as there is in the business) about why people connect to guys doing radio play-by-play in baseball more than other announcers. “It might be because there’s so little to talk about compared to the other sports,” he said. “I love doing baseball on radio. It just lends itself to story-telling and bringing the listener along. TV’s not the same. There are 100 things you have to get done in-between pitches. Or at least it feels that way.”

The Mets wanted Gary to be their TV voice when they started their own TV network four years back and he’s been great at it along with Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez. But he still misses radio. Having done some of both myself, I completely get it. Radio’s more fun to do and to listen to if truth be told.

There’s one other thing about baseball: it IS ubiquitous, from April to October. Every day there are games; every day there are box scores. Nowadays, with the baseball package, if you don’t go to a game on a given night, you can sit down and watch games all night and see how different perspectives are on the game in Boston as opposed to Chicago or Seattle. I just wish the people who run the package would make a deal with the Phillies so we could watch games from Citizens Bank Ballpark.

Last summer, after my heart surgery, I wasn’t house-bound but I didn’t have that much energy for the first four-to-six weeks. I also couldn’t drive for three weeks, which just about put me back in the hospital. When it comes to being a control-freak where driving is concerned Tiger Woods has nothing on me.

Most of my nights were spent in front of the TV watching baseball games. Truth be told, that was one of the good things about the surgery. Because I didn’t have to be up first thing the next morning to work or take a kid to school or someplace else, I could stay up as late as I wanted and watch as much baseball as I wanted. I have friends who say they can’t watch more than couple of innings without getting bored. Not me. There were nights when I watched doubleheaders—a game at 7 o’clock—flipping around in-between innings—and a game at 10 o’clock.

It was comforting and it made me feel like a kid again—knowing everyone’s batting average and ERA, understanding why someone was out of the lineup. Of course watching the Mets, even with Gary, Ron and Keith, wasn’t too much fun.

So now we’re on the doorstep of another spring and another baseball season. I can’t wait to go to the ballpark again or to watch games that matter on TV. I can’t wait to keep score. One thing I do when I keep score is write down the inning-by-inning score at the bottom of my scorecard. It’s just an old habit. But I always like writing down the score after the top of the first inning, whether the visiting team has put up an ‘0,’ or an ‘8’ or something in-between. It just makes me smile to see it, knowing the game has just begun.

April’s a great month. The Final Four; the Masters and early season baseball—which is full of hope for everyone. I can’t wait.


case said...

great paean to the game
growing up in Brooklyn in the 50s baseball also evokes moments with both parents--we used to walk across prospect park to ebbets field
i remember sitting behind 3rd base with my mom when don zimmer was beaned and carried out on a stretcher--i was sure he was dead
the dodgers left when i was 11
in my freshman year at brooklyn prep,3 blocks from ebbets--i had to watch it being torn down--haven't recovered

Matt Dick said...

Is it Mother's Day on the blog?

My mother taught me how to score a game when we lived in northern Kentucky and the Reds were the home team. Somewhere I still have the original score card my mother used to teach me, a 1945 Reds scorecard from Crosley Field which was *her* first scorecard after her father had taught her.

I just missed Crosley Field, but distinctly remember the Big Red Machine days. My first memories of scoring a game were writing down the names Perez, Bench, Rose, Morgan, Concepcion, Foster, Geronimo and Griffey (for me, Jr. will always be "son of" as opposed to Sr. being "father of" as it is probably more properly said).

I always loved writing Geronimo most, even though Rose was my favorite player. I also always loved writing in "Armbrister". He sounded like he had an especially strong arm. Is it possible I'm the only person in America who still remembers Ed Armbrister's career?

Happy Mother's Day everyone.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Ed Armbrister supposedly interfered with Fisk in 1975 WS, right?

Greg Kelly said...

I am routinely mocked by people near me for keeping score, but at Wrigley Field, my summer home, it is a necessity.

I keep score thinking I may see something I have never seen, and so now I have scorecards for Greg Maddux winning #300 for the Cubs and Tom Glavine winning #300 against the Cubs.

The one no-hitter I saw was Carlos Zambrano's in Milwaukee against Houston (a hurricane moved the game from Houston).

They moved the game at the last minute and so they didnt sell scorecards. I told my pal before the game that Z would probably throw a no-hitter, as I cannot score it!

Oh Well. 13 days to go!

DH in DC said...

John-- Off topic, but timely for this time of year-- from SI, a study shows that due to bias in the NCAA tourney seeding process, being from a "power" conference is worth, on average, a higher seed of 1.75.

Here's the link:


Gordon said...

Given your love of the great baseball voice, fewer and fewer remain, I still can not believe you don't have XM/Serius radio. Clear reception and every game. Sadly it also includes John Sterling. I hate the yankees but loved Bill White, Scooter and Frank Messer.

My love of baseball began with my mom and the Kansas City As. The As were beyond bad but Charlie Finely made going to the games fun.Who else would give out green bats at bat day?

After we moved to Detroit i was spoiled by Ernie Harwell, George Kell and Ray Lane. And 1968 brought a World Series.

My dad was a Pirates fan and when in Pittsburgh I listened to Bob Prince.

Part of what makes the history of baseball so special is the voices. Sadly most are gone, save for Vin Scully and Marty Brenaman.

Football is our national passion but baseball will always be our national past time.

case said...

greatest announcing team of all time(totally unbiased) was in brooklyn -- scully , red barber and connie desmond , at that time the best of the 3

Vin said...

This is a great piece... almost makes me want to start following baseball again... almost.

charles pierce said...

J --
What is it with daughters? Molly, who is now 16-going-on-17, is the big Sox fan in my house.