My love affair with major league baseball died back in 1957 when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. I was twelve years old, and the abrupt, forced detachment from my childhood idols was a real slap in the face. Watching the wrecking ball demolish beloved Ebbetts Field was like viewing one’s best friend being beat up by the neighborhood bully. It wasn’t pretty.
I can’t say I lost all interest in the National Pastime, but my relationship with the sport would never again be quite the same. Initially, there was a brief flirtation with the New York Yankees (probably my first act of passive aggression) that lasted until 1962 and included my only visit to a World Series game (Cincinnati Reds in 1961). All I can recall was that I sat in the bleacher section in centerfield. I don’t even remember who won the game.
But I was born a National League fan, so when the New York Metropolitans slipped into the vacancy created by the departure of the Dodgers, it was only natural that I would become a follower of the orange and blue. Nineteen sixty-nine was the year of “You Gotta Believe,” and then there was 1986, which helped salve the wounds of the seven-game loss in the ’73 World Series against the Oakland A’s. After that, it all started to go downhill, and eighteen years ago, when I moved to North Carolina, I officially lost all interest in the sport—until this year.
It’s funny, but when I think of baseball, I always associate it with sunshine—not high powered electric lights. It was a day game, not something that ran into the next day. There was something special about sitting in the stifling summer heat, my young bottom pressed against the hard wood of a grandstand seat, and my lungs filled with the smoke from cheap cigars. Ah, those were the days. The only sounds were crowd noise, the crack of a leather ball against a wooden bat, and the organ music that wafted through the air between innings. The scoreboard kept score—and not much else. It was all we needed, except maybe a hot dog and an orange drink. (Back then it was actually possible to buy a snack without taking a mortgage on one’s home.)
Fast forward to today. There are so many noises and distractions that the game itself seems almost an afterthought. The cost alone to attend a game is truly prohibitive for ordinary folks. Add to that the declining skills of good base running, accurate throws, and solid defense, and you have the “modern game.” In the “good old days,” pitchers pitched complete games. In the final game of this year’s World Series, neither starting pitcher exceeded three innings. But there was no shortage of hair. Prime example was Justin Turner of the Dodgers, who reminds me of one of the Muppets (both have orange hair and lots of it—on top of their heads and on their faces).
Before you call me a hypocrite for criticizing the game and then watching it anyway, let me say this: I enjoyed the World Series (the right team won, too! And it didn’t hurt that the ‘Stros were originally from the National League). There were a record number of home runs hit (batters, too) and lots of pitchers to watch. But the game bears no resemblance to the one I loved as a kid. And that’s okay. I’m 72 now, and it’s good to discover new things. After all, that’s what keeps us young.
So am I back in baseball’s corner? Maybe. Maybe not. At my age, I reallly can’t remember. Anybody see my remote control?