A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Baseball as refuge from flood, other losses

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., May 6, 7 or 8

The week of the Boston Marathon bombing and the workplace explosion in West, Texas, it was impossible not to feel guilty about a sense of loss from flooding.

Even there, many people in central Illinois were hit far harder, losing everything short of their lives.

Still, there’s a nagging feeling of despair that makes me want to wad up the “Serenity” prayer and throw it into some overflowing gutter.

After 10 inches of water flooded our basement in 1993, we moved most things off the floor 12 inches and got a de-watering system. Then the night of April 17, the drains backed up, the sump pump failed and more than 20 inches of water settled in. Besides appliances, clothes and food, lost items include dozens of videos (ranging from 12 volumes of classic “Rocky and Bullwinkle” tapes to journalism movies like “Deadline: USA” and “The Paper”), and hundreds of vinyl record albums. Those included the end of the alphabet of my many LPs – the Soulard Blues Band and the Sons of the Pioneers; Fats Waller and the Who; Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys and Frank Zappa – but also a few favorites set aside: from Crosby, Stills & Nash and Jimi Hendrix to the MC5 and It’s A Beautiful Day. It sure didn’t seem like a beautiful day.

Plus, there also were two cardboard boxes with clips of my newspaper stories from decades of writing in a Illinois, San Diego and Washington. “Poof” (or maybe, “glub.”)

It’s less vanity than validation for journalists to hang on to our clips. Much of the material is not as memorable as it is proof of effort, of labor and of loving the work if not always the results.

So I just want to curl up into a ball and clench my whole body, but I know I just need to count my blessings. So I sit with loads in a laundromat, walk the dog, mow the yard, buy a bag of old comic books for a few neighborhood boys, and retreat to the refuge of baseball.

Yes, baseball. A new season is a time of hope and memories of the National Pastime – and of fathers and sons. Everything’s fresh and new (if cold and dormant); everyone has an equal chance (depending on off-season acquisitions and injuries); and there are endless possibilities (at least through 162 games). It also conjures pleasant recollections of cigar-smoked, beer-fueled, ice-encrusted treks to Opening Day at Wrigley with a few friends.

My son accompanied us a couple of times, adding to a father-son connection we shared through youth league season, days at Wrigley, a couple of playoff appearances, and one summer’s trip to eight Major League Baseball games in seven cities over a week and a half escape to Baseball Nirvana.

Last month, my own dad, a lifelong Redbirds fan, turned 85 and said he was going to watch the Cubs this season because he can no longer stand Cardinals announcers. That means we’ll share some hopes and shocks recounting adventures with Anthony Rizzo and Carlos Marmol, as well as recall playing catch 50 years ago, when he taught me a decent knuckleball when my fastball just couldn’t compete with two fireballers on my team.

Watching professional baseball, playing Senior Softball or remembering a week at Randy Hundley’s Cubs Fantasy Camp, I’m reassured and warmed by baseball. When I concentrate, I hear crowds that never existed at high school or youth league games; I smell sweat decades dry and glove oil long evaporated; and I also see impossibly green grass between rows of bridal wreath bushes and Dad smiling, squatting at the garage backstop beneath a big shade tree and showing me a target and waiting for the pitch.

Others have described baseball as fathers playing catch with sons (as opposed to football: brothers beating up each other). That’s true, I believe. And whether it’s a sunny day game in Chicago or another drizzly night in rain-soaked Illinois, I can let baseball keep storm losses in perspective. I can feel the ball return to the pocket in my glove, and I swear I hear my son – maybe me – saying, “Just one more throw, Pop. C’mon, Dad, one more.”

As for the loss of a life’s clips, if not exactly the work, I take some comfort in the line by journalist Alexander Woollcott, who decades ago wrote, “I count it a high honor to belong to a profession in which the good men write every paragraph, every sentence, every line, as lovingly as any Addison or Steele, and do so in full regard that by tomorrow it will have been burned, or used, if at all, to line a shelf.”

[PICTURED: My son, Russell Baker -- now a lawyer in St. Louis -- is pictured about to catch a fly ball at Wrigley Field's right-center field, circa 1995, on one of those days the club lets fans onto the field.]

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