Jewish World Review July 21, 2000/ 18 Tamuz, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- PATRICIA J. WILLIAMS wrote a sprightly column in the May 22 Nation about the lazy and glorious pace that defines preteen baseball in Manhattan. Although Williams says she's not a sports fan, her son is, and so she attends his games and puts aside any ideological differences -- this is a Nation writer, remember -- with other parents and concentrates on the action, or lack of it.
She writes: "The first pitch is lobbed, the game begins. Well, sort of begins. As the ball arcs through the air, the batter stops to watch a flock of pigeons rise into the air. The first baseman stops to blow his nose. The second baseman stops to trade Pokemon cards with the enemy team. The center fielder sits cross-legged on the ground, apparently digging for earthworms."
Williams admits that a nasty competitive spirit sometimes emerges, especially among the fathers-who, in Nation class-warfare style, are described: "Their jeans are dry-cleaned, their shirts are weekend-casual-handsome button-down, denim-linen blends. Their barn jackets are from London Fog." But in general, it's a festival-like setting.
There are very few decent journalists who write about sports these days. The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell was once a master, but he's lost his juice; Michael Gee, years ago, was aces at The Boston Phoenix; and today, I love reading Tom Scocca's essays in Baltimore's City Paper --- but Williams' conclusion to her column is splendid, if just a ton naive.
Williams: "But when the din dies and the dust settles, we realize that a miracle has graced us: The batter has quietly, doggedly, trotted all the way around the diamond and back to home plate-past the bobbling first baseman, through the battle at second and under the nose of the third baseman, who is again chatting on the phone. The mothers whoop. The fathers holler. The pigeons wheel in fright. The sun breaks through the clouds; popcorn and Gatorade pour from the heavens. A rainbow appears in the deep water-blue spring sky, as joy in Mudville reigns."
Junior has two years of Downtown Little League under his belt -- a pair of trophies on his shelf -- and I have to say that Williams' bucolic description is bound to fade as the boys and few girls get older.
This season, under the fine managing of attorney Jeff Marks, my son's team, the Bears, defied all expectations that we had at the opening ceremonies in April -- the kids looked so small in comparison to other squads -- and wound up with a winning record. Their confidence increased each week as the guys rarely let opposing teams get the ball out of the infield and, even though it was against the makeshift rules, exuberantly slid into any base they came in contact with. With growing skill comes competition, and as the schedule wore on you could sense that, in a few years, it'll get more serious and rivalries will form.
It was a breakthrough couple of months for my seven-year-old, as he discovered that it was actually fun to play a position in the field and catch ground balls. Last year, he paid no attention while guarding second base and just thought about his turns at the plate. Now we practice hitting and catching on our roof, or in the park, and he suits up in Red Sox gear for each occasion. MUGGER III, who wasn't old enough to play this year, gets his licks in too-he's a lefty with a ferocious swing. On the rare occasion that he makes contact.
I suppose it's the era we live in, with its Field of Dreams kind of gauzy "everybody's a winner" haze that makes growing up even in New York City a little less harsh. (You just know that Kevin Costner's Dreams is Al Gore's favorite baseball movie. I'll bet G.W. Bush's is The Natural. I'll take John Sayles' Eight Men Out any day.) My own experience with Little League was a horse of another color: cutthroat from the time I was eight years old until I retired at the age of 13. This was in the suburbs, in the 60s, and parents showed up in force and were often belligerent, not only to the opposing team but sometimes to their own children. Every game, some father or mother would dress down his or her son in public, humiliating the poor kid, who probably didn't even want to play anyway. "Loser" was a common epithet. "Sissy" was even more frequent.
My parents, sick and tired of athletic contests after raising my four older brothers, would rarely make appearances at my games, which suited me fine. But when they did, they were quiet, my mom reading a book, Dad just daydreaming on the bench, always saying at the end of contest, "Good game, Rusty," no matter what my performance was like. The older boys in my family were a bit more ruthless, although in a good-natured way. I remember one time when two of them called out, when I was trying to leg it out to third, "Get the lead out of your butt, pal!"
On the other hand, at the end of my best season, when I batted cleanup for the Marsh's Men's Clothes squad, our team's "palooka," as the coach said, I totally muffed the most important game of my career. Couldn't find the plate when I was pitching, and struck out four times; I never could hit Buffy Bowen to save my life. This was a championship game, and we lost. I waited till we got to the station wagon before I started crying into my mitt. My brothers, sensitive to the temporary pain, tried to cheer me up and we all went for a jaunt to the Walt Whitman Mall, ate fried chicken and bought some $1.99 mono records at Sam Goody's.
BASEBALL OWNERS ARE BUSINESSMEN, TOO
Hard cheese, Dave.
Seems to me that a lot of less-celebrated teams, and cities, have made it to the World Series, and far more often than the Red Sox have, for example. The stingy Minnesota Twins had a decent run not long ago; the Cleveland Indians have dominated their division for years.
(Although age has finally caught up with the Injuns, as the Chicago White Sox, my father-in-law's team, are running away in the Central Division. Mrs. M, the boys and I are going to Boston this weekend for some historical sightseeing, fried clams and a Bosox-Chisox game at Fenway, late Saturday afternoon.)
Besides, what else is new? Don't fans remember how the Yankees, the General Motors of baseball, completely ran roughshod over the competition for decades, starting with the acquisition of Babe Ruth? In fact, the Kansas City Athletics, relocated from Philadelphia, served as a virtual farm team for the Yanks in the 50s. Walter O'Malley's Dodgers, in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, were dominant, and the same complaints were heard back then. And besides, Gene Autry spent a fortune on his Angels, and never did wind up with anything but headaches.
In fact, anyone who's wealthy enough to buy a baseball team, no matter where it's located, knows the obstacles facing him and the slim chance of actually making money on the business. But in most cases, it's a boy's dream come true: owning a Major League club is the ultimate hobby, a grownup toy to show off to peers. All this malarkey about the disparity between teams is just that; anyone who can enter the baseball sweepstakes knows what he's getting into.
Now there's talk coming from baseball commissioner Bud Selig-an embarrassment to the game-saying that it's time to let struggling franchises move to other cities. The Montreal Expos appear to be the first in line for a change of venue, and, naturally, the politicians in DC are attempting to grab the team, ignoring the fact that the DC area just doesn't draw fans. I think it'd be smarter to place a team in San Juan or Santo Domingo, and, when the inevitable happens, and Cuba turns democratic, there'd be no better city than Havana to join Major League Baseball.
Forget Fidel. I can't wait for the 2008 series between the Havana
Stogies and Boston Red Sox. A true baseball fan's hopes never flicker;
never, ever burn