The Terrence Mann character in my favorite movie of all time, Field of Dreams, makes the comment that baseball will always be around. All baseball fans that I know of have a few years where baseball seemed to be the most important years of their lives. For my grandpa, these years occurred during the late 20’s and early 30’s. He especially loved the Yankees and the Cardinals’ gashouse gang.
I can still see him sitting around his old, pot-bellied stove that kept one or maybe two places in the whole house warm. He grabs his can of Prince Albert and takes a cigarette paper. His one good eye glazes over a bit with memory as he packs his tobacco in the paper, rolls it up, licks it, and then takes a small stick match and lights his cigarette.
He pauses as he takes that first puff. “Son, did I ever tell you about the time Babe Ruth Ã¢Â?Â¦”
Sometimes he talked about the gashouse gang. Mostly, it was Ruth and Cobb. He admired the fact that Cobb was one mean S.O.B. Like a minstrel of old, he took me to the battlefields of baseball so that I could see the high and tight fastballs, the runner sliding into second with his spikes up, and I could hear the crack of the bat.
I knew my grandfather was terribly sick the day I asked him if he thought the St. Louis Cardinals had a chance to win the pennant. He looked through me and in a monotone voice said, “I don’t keep track of baseball much anymore.”
My grandpa passed his love of baseball down to my dad, and my dad, to me. No matter what was going on in our lives, if I was going through a rebellious phase or pursuing things I shouldn’t have pursued; my dad and I could always sit down and talk about the Cardinals. This common string kept us together and still does.
My dad scared me this past year when he battled cancer. He went through surgery and moved out of a house he had lived in for forty-one years. I asked him what he thought about the Cardinals.
“I haven’t kept track of them too much,” he said.
Fortunately, my dad came around and by the end of the season, he was just as rabid as I was about the team. I’d say that my dad, so far, has not lost his joy for the game, but I think even he would say that the good, old days for him would have been in the 40’s and 50’s. To me, the greatest years were the late 60’s.
“It’s a long fly ball. Way back! Way back! It could be. It might be. It is! A home run. Holy cow!”
When I think of baseball, this is what I think of. I remember the voice of Harry Carey through the crackling of my transistor radio as I listened to the Cardinals with my head buried under my covers..Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Roger Maris, Orlando Cepeda, and on the mound, Bob Gibson. 1967 and 1968 were my dream years as a Cardinal fan. In 67, the Cardinals actually beat the Red Sox in the World Series. Gibson won three games.
After taking a line shot from Roberto Clemente that broke his leg and caused him to miss most of the season, Gibson came roaring back in the World Series to beat everything the Red Sox could swing at him. The next year, 1968, was almost as good until the Cardinals came up against a junk-throwing lefthander named Mickey Lolich. After one of the greatest years in baseball history, Gibson went down to defeat in the seventh game of the World Series. Still, he managed to finish with over 20 wins and an earned run average of just over one run a game. I grew up in this era of baseball. During this time, a fan was lucky to get to see 20 games a year on television. In 1967 when Gibson was hot, he could pitch a nine-inning shutout in less than two hours.
With cable today, I can watch over 100 Cardinal baseball games. That is, if I want to sit for over three hours every night listening to a baseball game sandwiched in between commercials and station promos. Two minutes or more of commercials fill the space between each inning, and fans endure an endless string of off-the-cuff commercial endorsements such as the acid relief pill pitching change or the light beer scoreboard.
Fan comes from the word fanatic. Honestly, I can say that, at times, I have been a fanatic, a truly crazy follower of the St. Louis Cardinals. Ask my wife. Work stoppages, strikes, divisional upon divisional playoffs, multi-million dollar free agents, annual ticket price increases, steroid scandals, and a thousand other things have seriously dampened my love for the game. Since the team I root for, the Cardinals, is a middle-market team; it will only be a matter of time before it is priced out of competition.
Terrence Mann might have been correct when he said baseball will always be around. My question is, will there be anyone around except for Yankees fans (Sorry, I couldn’t let the opportunity go by) who cares?