I, like so many, was introduced to baseball by my father. It is only recently that I began to wonder who introduced him. My grandfather died in a mine accident in 1935. My dad was born in 1933. The only hint I have is when I was young I once asked him if he had ever watched Babe Ruth play. That question should give you an idea of how young I was. The Babe played his last game in 1935. The first pro game wasn’t televised until 1939, and I doubt my Dad’s family even had a TV until the 1950s. But, he ignored all of that and just answered.
“No, but you should ask your Uncle Johnny”
Uncle Johnny was Dad’s older brother. I never did ask. But, someone must have shown him how to handle a bat and glove, so he could teach me. Magic, maybe?
My fondest memories of my time in Georgia, when I was between the ages of 5 -10, was of my dad and baseball. I would drag him out to the back yard each day after work, even before dinner, and we would play catch or he would drill me on grounders and fly balls. “Use two hands” and “Get down on it” were frequent pieces of advice. Or were those the incantations of a conjuror?
I collected baseball cards and I asked him to try and name a team that I didn’t have a representative player. He went through probably every team and of course I had at least one card with a player with that team. Probably tiring of the game he said “St. Louis Browns” I had never heard of the St Louis Browns. But, soon I had a library book about Dizzy Dean, who played one game for the perennial losers in 1947, after a Hall of Fame career with the Cardinals. I learned all about Dizzy and The Gashouse Gang, and who the Browns were. It kindled a desire to learn the history of baseball and another reason to read. Magic. (The Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954 and became the Orioles.)
Little League Baseball was a magical rite of passage. If your Dad did not pound the basics of teamwork and fundamentals into you, your Little League coach did. Playing with a group of 15 other boys, all pulling for a common goal, taught me life lessons that are still pertinent today. Things like your role on a team, backing each other up, winning gracefully, losing with dignity, and realizing there is there is always someone better, so you had better work hard. Teaching these lessons to a pre-teen? Magic.
Baseball’s magic reveals itself even with it’s season. Baseball wakes you up with the spring. It let’s you ignore it, like your loyal dog, during the summer. Then it welcomes you home in the fall when things on the diamond begin to heat up. It dies just in time for the holidays. Then greets you again when the grass greens, asking you to believe that this is the year. Baseball is both eternal and finite. Magic
Baseball marks the passage of time, especially if you live in a city with an annually contending team. A World Series victory just might make a given year more memorable than the birth of a child or even your own wedding. The events don’t compare; but ask any hardcore baseball fan the years his team took the Series (in his lifetime) and he will rattle them off like his Social Security number. Ask him when his anniversary is, and see if that comes as fast. What else, but magic can explain that?
Listening to baseball play by play on a summer night means a pleasant three hours with a cold drink and images appearing in your head. Just like a great book takes you to Paris or the Orient. The radio takes you to Dodger Stadium or Fenway Park. Magic.
The magic of baseball has kept AM radio alive. (Talk radio helps, too) I burned up many batteries in my transistor radio falling asleep when Hank Aaron and the Braves played on the west coast. I currently enjoy listening to Jack Corrigan and Jerry Schemmel covering the Rockies on KOA. It is magic to listen to either of them describe a home run, or a Rockies double play.
Attending a game is like magic frosting. The sunshine. The hot dogs and beer. The tradition. Being in the outfield stands during batting practice is the closest thing most of us will ever get to being a major leaguer. You can still get autographs by going down to the rails before games. If you are lucky enough to sit along the infield, down close, not only do you have the opportunity for a foul ball, you might get a baseball tossed to you. Where else does this happen? If it does happen; Poof! You are ten years old again. Magic.
I was asked to travel to Iowa on business this past week. My first thought was not “Damn. Iowa?” No, my first thought was “If you build it, he will come” Those that understand baseball’s magic don’t need an explanation. Those that get it will understand that I drove 170 miles one way to Dyersville. Those that get it will understand spending an hour on the nearly empty Field of Dreams, hitting balls to or being hit balls from complete strangers, because they got it, too. Or were we mesmerized?
What other sport would entice an Iowa corn farmer to allow a baseball diamond to be built in his corn? “Most any of them for the right price”, you might cynically answer. How many would keep it, with no other reason than it’s there. I talked with Mr. Lansing, the man who allowed Paramount to change his corn into grass. He told me he would have plowed that sod under and planted corn again, except for one thing. Those that came treated his field like a temple. They left the place clean and picked up after those who didn’t. He told of people coming from Japan to his field. He described people being respectful and grateful. Sound closer to a miracle, but it’s the magic of baseball.
I believe in magic and I thanked him, too.