Tuesday, June 3, 2014

America's Pasttime

I love baseball. Other sports I need to have a person to cheer for. When my uncles played football and basketball and ran track I yelled as loud as anyone. But for baseball I can follow a team.

When I was a little girl there were no professional baseball teams near us. We could get games on the radio or sometimes on television on the weekends. But we only got games involving the St Louis Cardinals or the New York Yankees. For some reason I have always preferred the American League as opposed to the National League. That means I rooted for the Yankees.

Today I still have a soft spot for the Cardinals. I remember listening to Dizzy Dean doing play-by-play. He had such a great voice with a touch of a southern twang and a laid back good old boy way. He had humorous stories about a lot of the players both past and present. And at the end of the game he would say something like, "This is your old pal, Dizz, saying goodbye till next time."

A favorite activity in the summer was to get a bunch of kids together to play baseball. We would choose sides and play in a yard or field. To decided which team would bat first the captain of one team would toss the bat to the other captain. then they would hand over hand to the end of the bat. Whichever captain was the final one got to choose whether they would bat first or take the field.

I was a mediocre fielder. I did okay but nothing fabulous. I had to learn to hit the ball often and far. I could not run so I needed the time to get to base. I was also notorious for tossing the bat when I hit the ball. Until one day when my brother was playing catcher while I batted. I tossed the bat and hit him in the mouth knocking his front teeth (permanent) loose. Luckily the damage was not permanent.

The boys played little league baseball. There was nothing like that available for girls then. One town wwe lived in had a player in the older division that eventually went on to be chosen by the Yankees. He mostly played in the minor leagues but was called up in the fall many years to play with the majors.

My father would not coach my brothers because he did not want to be accused of favoratism. But he liked to umpire the games. And we watched all the games. It was an event in town.

When we moved to the big city after I was married there was a major league baseball team there. Unfortunately I married a man who had no interest at all in baseball. When my parents and siblings moved to the city I was finally able to go to some of the games.

We lived a few miles straight down the street from the ball park. All we had to do was hop on the bus to get there. And that was cheaper than paying for parking if we could find it.

And little league was available for my kids. My youngest brother played for the same league as my boys in the beginning. He is quite a bit older so he played with the older teams. My daughter was almost as interested in baseball as her father so she did not play.

The city park system had a park in our neighborhood. It had been allowed to rundown over the years. There were baseball diamonds that were overgrown with weeds. There were no organized activities of any kind.

We formed a committee to make things happen at the park. Crafting classes and art classes were presented inside the renovated building. Games and sports were made available outside. But no baseball. We had no coaches.

At a community meeting we found that fathers felt they did not have time to devote to coaching for their children. I suggested that perhaps some of the mothers would be interested. On e father was vehemently against that. After all baseball is a BOYS' sport. Mothers could not possibly know how to teach boys. My argument was that if we could teach them to use the bathroom without making a mess we could certainly teach them baseball.

Finally we had enough coaches for four teams. I was one of them. The others were fathers. I did not want to make a bad showing. As long as my team did not come in last I would be happy.

We drew players. I had two of my sons who were automatically on my team. I then was incredibly lucky in drawing some of the best players in the other little league my boys played for and some really good players who had never been in a league before.

The first game came. We lost miserably. After the game I called my team together because I saw some things I did not like. I had some really good players but i also had some inexperienced players. All had the right to play. But the more experienced players were not good team players. If someone made a mistake or was unsure of how to make a play the experienced players would belittle them on the field.

So I told my team that I knew why they lost. If another player makes a good play tell them so. If they make a mistake tell them they will do better next time. Between games teach them some of the things they need help with. I saw lights go on over all their heads. They had not realized that boosting each other might help them and they understood what I was telling them.

Our next game we won. There were congratulations all over the place and a lot of "That's okay. You'll do better next time" all through the game. As a matter of fact we did not lose a game the rest of the season. We were a team.

Now back to my major league team. For years we were underdogs... the perennial 4th place team. Then came a new manager. My father was very upset. He did not like this manager at all. His nickname was The Hook. Daddy thought he did not give pitchers a chance before he would pull them from the game.

The Hook was Sparky Anderson. He came to the Tigers and made a statement to the press that we would be champions in 5 years. Five years after that we were the winners of the World Series. We had players like Alan Trammel, Lou Whittaker, Lance Parish, and so on.

We had a pitcher before that who was the biggest phenomenon in baseball. He talked to the ball as he pitched. He got on his hands and knees to shape the pitcher's mound to his liking. He had energy that kept him moving all the time. If another player made a good play he would run up to that player and congratulate him. He was Mark Fidrych also called The Bird because he reminded people of Big Bird on Sesame Street. We saw him pitch his first game in a major league game. Before that we saw him pitch in a charity game with another major league team.

The winningest pitcher of the 1980's was ours. Jack Morris should have been elected to the Hall Of Fame but was not. Travesty.

Now we have the best hitter in baseball. Miguel Cabrera is so far above all the others. He has won the batting title the last three years in a row. Two years ago he was a triple crown winner which is nearly impossible to do. He was voted the Most Valuable Player (MVP) the last two years in a row.

We also have the best pitcher in baseball today. Justin Verlander won the Cy Young award for pitching. He also won the pitching triple crown as well as MVP.

Another Cy Young winner from last year is on our team. Max Scherzer is our number two pitcher. Anibal Sanchez is last year's ERA (earned run average) player. These are just a few of our players.

We had one of the most beloved managers until this year. Jim Leland retired at the end of last season. I miss him but I think Brad Ausmus has done a fine job so far this year.

I hate when players are traded away. I grow attached to them. Even if I understand the logic in the trade I feel bad. I follow them too. Some of the players we receive in a trade are players I did not like before they came to the Tigers. Sometimes I never like them. Sometimes I come to like them a lot. But I cheer for my team.

Most summer days you will find me glued to the television watching my Tigers play. They play 162 games in a regular season. I watch them all. I scream at the television. The dog took a while to be comfortable with my shouting but she sleeps through it now.

My children have always laughed at me watching baseball with my yelling. My mother and I would watch and yell and all the kids would sit outside and make fun of us. Rotten kids.

I realize that logically my team will not win every single game. But WHY NOT??? I hate it when we lose. I call them names. I pout. All things I would never do if I were at the game. I am full of glee when we win. That I would do at a game.

I hate it when fans at the game boo players or teams. I hate the Cleveland Indians drum player who pounds that thing all through the game. I know he is supporting the team but he gives me a headache. I hat cheating of any kind. That includes chemical cheating.

I hate it when fans throw things on the field. I hate when fans throw back a baseball they caught when it came from a home run ball from the opposing team. Are they stupid? If they do not want it give it to one of the children waiting for a souvenir of the game.

I love when players toss a used ball to a cute little kid. The smiles on those faces are priceless. I love watching players sign autographs. I love watching a player who is happy for making a good play or who congratulates another player for making a good play. I love the good natured interactions between players from opposing teams when they are together on the field.

Did I tell you that I like baseball? It is fun to play. It is fun to watch. What more could you want?


  1. You know, Emma, I do get that you really love baseball. I will confess to not being a big fan, but have attended games played by minor league or college teams. Some of these have been near towns where I lived at the time and at other times when traveling. However, I have never sat and watching a major league ball game on TV.
    The advice you gave the young players on your team many years ago was good and it showed in the results in their playing and quite possibly made a difference in their lives as they grew up. How nice that the sport and especially your counsel provided a moral code too.

    1. Thank you for the comments. Now if I could just get the Tigers back into winning mode my world would be great!