Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., April 3, 4 or 5
Managers, umps and fans will deal with new rules to avoid home-plate collisions and new video-reply appeals; Reds speedster Billy Hamilton seems ready to steal like a Pink Panther international jewel thief and Tigers star Miguel Cabrera will approach corporate-CEO status, earning about $40,000 every time he comes to the plate; and the Chicago Cubs look to have more talent in the minors than at 100-year-old Wrigley Field.
But it’s still the National Pastime. (OK, NFL or NASCAR has as avid a fan base and maybe Americans have other pastimes. But who’d collect couch-potato trading cards or keep box scores on wars?)
Baseball connects with our best past, a time when Ted Williams gave up some of his most productive playing years to be a combat pilot for the Air Force during wartime.
“Baseball is sitting on the porch, drinking lemonade, listening to your father talk to his father or his brothers about the game,” wrote Orioles exec (and ex-pro footballer) Calvin Hill. “Baseball is a reminder of the ways things used to be before we became so transient, so mobile, so much in a hurry.”
Author Thomas Wolfe asked, “Is there anything that can tell more about an American summer than the smell of wooden bleachers in a small-town baseball park – that resinous, sultry and exciting smell of old, dry wood?”
Twenty years ago this week, some pals and I were at Wrigley for Opening Day, when Tuffy Rhodes hit three homers off Doc Gooden and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton threw out the first pitch and sang with Harry Caray. It seems like yesterday.
David Halberstam wrote that baseball, “is the sport that a foreigner is least likely to take to. You have to grow up playing it and believe that if the answer to the Mays-Snider-Mantle question is found, then the universe will be a simpler and more ordered place.”
Writer Art Hill added, “With those who don't give a damn about baseball, I can only sympathize. I do not resent them. I am even willing to concede that many of them are physically clean, good to their mothers and in favor of world peace. But while the game is on, I can't think of anything to say to them.”
Maybe there’s a gender difference. Humorist Dave Barry said, “If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there are men on base.”
Civil-libertarian lawyer Clarence Darrow recalled his youth: “Baseball was the only perfect pleasure we ever knew.”
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote, “Baseball, like life itself, has been and continues to be distorted by sin. Baseball is part of our fallen world. It seems that baseball, like Congress, is the mirror into which we must look if we are to see ourselves – a sobering thought.”
Poet Robert Frost said, “I am never more at home in America than at a baseball game in beautiful weather and my side winning.”
Galesburg native and three-time Pulitzer winner Carl Sandburg wrote, “I remember the Chillicothe ballplayers grappling the Rock Island ball players in a 16-inning game ended by darkness. And the shoulders of the Chillicothe players were a red smoke against the sundown and the shoulders of the Rock Island players were a yellow smoke against the sundown.”
Another Galesburg writer, George Fitch, who also wrote for Iowa and Peoria newspapers and the Saturday Evening Post, said, “Baseball is played by a grandstand full of maniacs assisted by 18 players in uniform, a national commission, a box full of sporting writers, a book of rules as thick as the California code, and a low-browed pirate called an umpire. The object of baseball is to win the game for the home team. To do this it is sometimes necessary for the spectators to yell continuously for three hours. This develops marvelous endurance.”
Or, as the late, great Macomb rock critic Rick Johnson wrote, “Life would be a lot more fun if you could hit a foul ball and still be up.”
This weekend, many of us “seamheads” will be channel-surfing between ballgames and TCM’s baseball movie gems “Field of Dreams,” “Angels in the Outfield” and “It Happens Every Spring,” once more uncovering something precious, as editor Kevin Kerrane summed up baseball: “After Vietnam, beyond football, in spite of Astroturf and designated hitters and megabucks, we keep finding the game again every time we lose it – rediscovering it not only in Major League parks, but in every corner of the country, on innumerable streets and playgrounds and sandlots, and in every corner of ourselves.”
[PICTURED: Knight at a Randy Hundley's Chicago Cubs fantasy camp. (Note mark on forehead from getting bonked by a line drive.)]