Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, October 20, 2006

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

by Kerry Blair

The World Series begins tomorrow. At my house this means hot dogs for supper, peanuts and Cracker Jack all around, and me and my mom huddled in front of the TV at five o’clock sharp. I am, you see, a fourth-generation baseball fan. Possibly I am a fanatic. In our family, the defect is carried in the maternal genes. My grandmother bled Dodger blue for almost ninety years. She was with me in the hospital for an October surgery in 1978. When I came to, the first thing she told me was the series standing and Orel Hershiser’s ERA. She figured that since I’d lived, I’d want to know. She was right.

Baseball has been here as long as America. A little longer, in fact. A soldier at Valley Forge wrote of General Washington: He sometimes throws and catches a ball for hours with his aide-de-camp. Every president has left at least one baseball-related story. When informed of his nomination for president in 1860, Abraham Lincoln said: I’m glad to hear of their coming, but they will have to wait a few minutes till I get my turn at bat. Calvin Coolidge is credited with “officially” declaring baseball our national game, and Herbert Hoover wrote: Next to religion, baseball has furnished a greater impact on American life than any other institution. (Wow. Even I wouldn’t have gone quite so far as that.) But John F. Kennedy observed in 1961: Last year, more Americans went to symphonies than went to baseball games. This may be viewed as an alarming statistic, but I think that both baseball and the country will endure. (So far, so good.) My favorite story, though, is about Ronald Reagan. In his broadcasting days he was once announcing a game from a remote studio when the feed went dead. Without missing a beat, Reagan simply made up the next ten minutes worth of plays. If anybody ever knew it, they didn’t care. It’s mostly how he ran our country, too, and we loved him for it.

But we’re talking baseball. As you probably know, the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Detroit Tigers in this year’s Fall Classic. Normally I’m National League-loyal, but once in awhile I jump bleachers. I just had to root for the Red Sox a couple of years ago. This year I’m leaning toward the Tigers. Not only do I believe that people who eke out a living in Michigan should get some kind of prize for it once every quarter-century or so, but the Tigers kind of remind me of the 2001 Diamondbacks. Man, what a year! My only claim to fame will probably always be that I published a book in June of that year predicting that the new Arizona franchise would go to the World Series. When the D-Backs beat the then-legendary Yankees just after midnight in early November, my phone started ringing and didn’t stop for three days. It was one of the highlights of my life and I had nothing whatsoever to do with it! That’s the crazy thing about fanaticism. I can’t quite remember my husband’s face when we knelt across the altar in the temple, and I’ve forgotten what the first kid they handed me in the labor-and-delivery room looked like, but I will always remember Jay Bell's face as he crossed home plate to win the World Series.

Let me tell you one great Tiger story and then I promise to let you get on with your Friday in peace. In 1934 the Tigers were playing for their first pennant since 1909—an eternity in baseball. They were led in both fielding and hitting by a young ballplayer by the name of Hank Greenburg. Disaster struck when a decisive game fell on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Whether Hank would (or should) play on a holy day became a hotly-debated issue across the country. He went to temple instead of to the ballpark and was immortalized by Edgar A. Guest:

We shall miss him on the infield
And shall miss him at the bat,
But he’s true to his religion—
And we honor him for that!

The Tigers lost that day, but America won. Maybe there’s a metaphor in baseball like there is in Disneyland. One of my favorite players (and people), Joe Garagiola, wrote: Baseball is only a game, but they keep a book on you. When it’s all over for you, the game has got you measured. This is precisely why I’ll miss Sunday’s game to go to church. (Think the Tigers will miss me?) But tomorrow and Monday and however many more days after that the series extends, I’m so there! As Yogi Bera said, You can see a lot by just observing and I want to see it all!

Play ball!


At 10/20/2006 4:09 PM, Blogger Cheri said...

As Kerry so eloquently stated, baseball is an American icon. My first experience with it came at the tender age of about 10, when a classmate of mine, swung a bat around and around and managed to smack a homerun style swing into my tender stomach. Rather knocked the wind out of me as I recall. =)Strangely enough, I continued attempting to play. Even when I was routinely assigned to outfield positions during recess. Something about it was important to catch the ball when it came one's direction, go figure. My teammates decided I couldn't do as much damage in the outfield.

I can think of another time when I gasped for air because of baseball. By then I was a teenager. Through stubborness and determination, I had managed to work my way from an outfield position, to an infield position, and during our small town's championship game on the 4th of July, I caught the fly ball that led to our team's victory. I also managed to catch it with the wrong hand, effectively breaking a finger. =) Some things never change.

I learned a lot playing baseball. I learned about sportsmanship, team spirit, and endurance.

This past week, I saw all three of these things exemplified compliments of a football game. I happened to be in New Orleans when the Saints won yet another game, this time against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Saints have become an icon all their own to the people who live in New Orleans. They are a symbol of hope for an area that didn't have much of that a year ago. The celebrations over this latest victory went far into the night. Beating the odds, the Saints had procurred an important win.

On a news story, they interviewed some of the Eagles' fans who had come to cheer on their team in New Orleans. They spent a goodly portion of one day helping to clean up the ravaged homes that were damaged when Hurricane Katrina descended. There was a camaraderie between the Eagles' fans and the residents of New Orleans that is difficult to describe. Even if New Orleans squeaked by with the win.

Sports can often reveal the very best that exists inside all of us. On the flip side, it can often reveal the worse. It does my heart good to see things like I witnessed in New Orleans. Rooting for the underdog can often inspire miracles.

At 10/21/2006 10:52 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

My oldest son loves playing baseball. He's out in the backyard almost every day throwing a baseball. He had to write a report for school and chose the topic of "How Baseball Was Invented." He and Dad are Oakland A's fans.

At 10/22/2006 8:04 PM, Blogger annegb said...

I used to be a die hard Cardinals fan, but I liked Detroit's manager.

I got stuck on baseball a couple of autumns when I was pregnant and had to stay in bed.

At 10/22/2006 8:29 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

I was born in Oakland, CA, and raised in the bay area. By the time I was ten, my brother and I rode our bikes to BART (think Disney's monorail) and rode to the Oakland Coliseum. (This was before every sports venue was named after some dot com) For $1 you could get a bleacher seat.

This just happened to be the heady days of Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and Vida Blue. How could I not be a baseball fan after watching that?

Later I got married and introduced my wife to A's baseball. In fact it was on our Honeymoon. We had a great little beach house on the Monterey beach and it turned out her Angels were playing my A's. So every night we bet dinner dishes on who would win. After losing three out of four, she became an A's fan too.

Of course these were also heady days for the A's. Dave Stewart, Eck, the Bash Brothers, Terry Steinbach, and Ricky Henderson. Three World Series appearances in three years. (Alas, only one win. But it WAS against the hated cross bay rivals, the Giants) remember the earthquake? We watched the A's win a World Series game while my wife was giving birth to my first son)

Now we watch Billy Beane's Moneyball A's (It was lots of fun right up until we ran into the Detroit brick wall.) and cheer for any team that isn’t the Giant’s or the most hated Yankees.

I don't think there is anything I find more enjoyable than watching a great baseball game on TV with a sub sandwich and a bag of chips. Unless of course, it's watching a live baseball game with a hot dog and peanuts.

Baseball is definitely America's game, no matter how popular football and basketball get.


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