“Say It Ain’t So, Joe….”
You remember that famous actor in “A League of Their Own” saying, “There is no crying in baseball.” Well, he was wrong!
I’m crying this morning.
And it’s not so much that I miss the opening day game between my St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds that was scheduled for late March. I miss the thought of not having it!
I can’t stand the silence.
I miss the roar of the crowd.
And the hope that springs eternal.
Baseball has been the one constant in life. It just always was…..and always is. It is not ruled by a clock or constrained by exact outfield dimensions. And the outcome is not always decided by the biggest, the fastest or the most skilled.
Anybody can be the hero on any given day. Of course, I can tell you from experience—the opposite is also true!
It mirrors the ups and downs of life. The joy and the heartbreak. The thrill and the agony. Life’s lessons abound in every facet of the game!
But nobody cares about that. We played for the sake of playing. It was the wind in your hair as you rounded second and headed for third. It was the sun in your eyes as you tracked down a long drive off the bat of Bobby C. Melton. It was the feel of the leather as you slipped your hand into a well oiled Rawlings glove. It was the smell of the horsehide. It was the dust rising to cover you on a hot, sticky, cloudless day.
I’ve heard the roar of that crowd…..when there wasn’t nobody at the field except for me and Ricky, Buddy, Yogi and David Mark.
Gosh, the anticipation could make you tingle all over. I’ve awakened on a million mid-summer mornings with one thought overriding all others—baseball today! We’d gather up in the field behind the house. Sometimes we played in Brenda Ellis’ backyard. Or met over on Forrest Avenue in the vacant lot beside Ricky Hale’s house. As we got older we gravitated to the big field across from the Pajama Factory.
We’d play “rolling at the bat” if only two or three of us were there; and “two on a side” when the next guy arrived. By ten o’clock, we’d have enough for a real game. We’d “choose up teams” and play till dark. Most evenings—after a quick bite of brown beans and cornbread—out under the porch light, I’d bounce a rubber ball off the side of the house till Mom yelled it was bedtime.
You can’t get much more constant than that!
And don’t you dare say “it’s just a game.”
When I was really small, I’d tag along after Leon. He was five years older….and that was a GIANT baseball difference when he and his friends were 11….and I was 6. It never dawned on me (and I didn’t care) that I was the embarrassing little brother.
If they had an odd number they’d let me play right field and bat last. I couldn’t throw with them or hit like them or run like them….but I WAS IN THE GAME! To this day I can name every kid on that field. I still idolize them.
You can’t outgrow baseball. Ever. It’s a rule.
When I was in high school I met a pretty nice girl from a neighboring town. I thought it was true love. I was playing American Legion Baseball that summer. We had a game near ’bout every day.
For some unfathomable reason, she determined on an upcoming Saturday night we were going to a dance at the National Guard Armory over in Lexington. She laid down the law—it was HER or BASEBALL.
Talk about a no brainer.
I started listening to the St. Louis Cardinals’ games when Vinegar Bend Mizell was a rookie and Enos Slaughter was our right fielder. I was glued to the radio on the May 2, 1954, Sunday afternoon when Stan “the Man” Musial hit five homeruns in a doubleheader. My day was a little brighter when the Cards won; the brown beans and cornbread a tad tastier….
I have played baseball, coached baseball, lived baseball, dreamed baseball, loved baseball for an entire lifetime.
And I haven’t missed a single opening day……until, well, this year.
I’ve played “pitch” with my granddaddy. And with my Father (and Mom when no one else was available). And two brothers. And both my sons. And six grandchildren.
It’s some more of that constant stuff.
No wonder the world seems upside down right now.