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.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Eagerly waiting for ‘pitchers and catchers reporting’

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Jan. 23, 24 or 25

For baseball fans, even an active off-season “Hot Stove League” by itself is no substitute for action on the diamonds. Just like nicotine-addicted smokers, ardent seamheads need “patches” to get us through until pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 12 (for the Cardinals), 13th (the Cubs) or 15th (the White Sox).

Sure, there was interest – eagerness, even – to follow the chase for Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka, the 25-year-old right-hander who went 24-0 last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, where his ERA was 1.27. Wednesday, the Yankees agreed to a $155 million, seven-year contract with the prized pitcher, who had also been sought by the Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers and Diamondbacks.

True, that interest was not quite enough to satisfy the need for horsehide and hickory, dirt and sun. Elsewhere, even the “March Madness” of Illinois high school and NCAA basketball tournaments – much less NASCAR, the PGA, figure skating, the World Cup, the Iditarod and the Winter Olympics – fall short of completely satisfying baseball loons with the winter shakes.

So to survive the next few weeks, you might consider this Seamhead Solace and Salves:

In the next few days, cable/satellite TV’s TCM will show “It Happens Every Spring” and “Pride of The Yankees.” Other Broadcast options: TV has MLB Network’s “20 Greatest Games” or PBS’ production of “Bleacher Bums.” For radio, there’s Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First,” always great, and online sources such as Old-Time Radio have gems like Boston Blackie in “The Baseball Player Murder."

Books: The best-selling “Baseball Prospectus” – the annual book using the Sabermetric system to analyze last season and forecast this summer’s game – is due out February 11, and nonfiction is virtually limitless. But Roger Kahn’s “Boys of Summer” and David Halberstam’s “October ’64” are fast and rewarding sport journalism. For fiction, there are dozens of excellent books with baseball as a theme also available at libraries as well as bookstores. The best may be Mark Harris’s “Bang the Drum Slowly,” W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe” or Donald Hays’ “The Dixie Association.”

Movies: There are many baseball films, too, from “42,” “Moneyball” and “Fever Pitch” to “The Natural,” “Major League” and “Bull Durham.” Check out older or more obscure videos such as “Damn Yankees,” “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings,” “The Pride of St. Louis” or “The Stratton Story.”

Art: The classic “Diamonds are Forever: Artists and Writers on Baseball” exhibit has been mimicked here and there, and the Smithsonian Institution’s 168-page book of its highlights remains available online for as little as 1 cent.

Theater: Unless you’re incredibly lucky or willing to travel, most baseball-themed stage productions will only be available online or on video. Look for “The First” with David Alan Grier as Jackie Robinson or “Lady of the Diamond” with Christine Baranski.

Music: From Count Basie’s “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” to Steve Goodman”s “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” there’s an amazing assortment of baseball-themed music out there, and much of it is online. Terry Cashman’s whole “Talkin’ Baseball” series, starting with “Willie, Mickey and the Duke,” is great, sentimental and corny. There have been countless versions of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and almost every team has some sort of goofball record featuring players (like the Cubs’ “Men in Blue,” the Dodgers’ rendition of “We Are the Champion” and “Phillies Fever”). And don’t forget John Fogerty’s “Centerfield,” Bob Dylan’s “Catfish” or Brownie McGhee’s “New Baseball Boogie.”

Other: There are fantasy leagues, baseball cards and games, ranging from “Out of the Park Baseball” and “Diamond Mind Baseball” to the timeless “Strat-O-Matic” board game.

Now: How many days until an umpire cries, “Play ball”?

[PICTURED: Michael Langenstein’s postcard collage “Play Ball” (1982) -- a riff on Michelangelo's fresco painting "The Creation of Adam" in the Sistine Chapel -- ceiling, from ”Diamonds Are Forever: Artists and Writers on Baseball" (Smithsonian Institution, 1987)]

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