The other day I was riding by a ballfield and I saw a man on the mound, with a pail full of baseballs, pitching batting practice to a boy, probably his son. Another young man was out in the field shagging the balls, and waiting for his turn to hit.
I needed to see that.
Major League baseball was dying in the summer of 2020.
It didn’t run out of sluggers, southpaw pitchers, speed burners, or shortstops that make bare handed catches in short left field. Baseball wasn’t dying of old age, lack of interest, or neglect. It wasn’t dying from “the virus.” No, it was something else. Baseball was dying from the disease of stubbornness. It was being negotiated to death. Once again, the game was the victim of the oldest feud in the history of professional sports, the owners vs. the players.
As I write this column, it appears that all the parties involved have come to an agreement, and we will have a shortened season of about 60 games starting the last week of July. Thank you for stopping the bus just before you drove it over the cliff.
And thank you to the man wearing out his tired arm, pitching to his boy. You reminded me of why I love the game.
Baseball is not lawyers with codicils, writs, and preliminary injunctions. I don’t want to hear about pro-rated salaries, revenue sharing, or personal protection protocols.
No, baseball is Max Scherzer staring in for the sign, two outs with the bases loaded, and the game on the line. Baseball is young Juan Soto, coiled at the plate, thinking curve, but ready to hit the fast ball. Mookie Betts coming up smiling, scoring the winning run, after a head first slide into home plate.
Baseball is old black and white footage of Willie Mays, back turned, robbing Vic Wertz of a triple in the 1954 World Series, Jackie Robinson stealing home, and Babe Ruth circling the bases in his classic home run trot.
Baseball is “The Great One”, Roberto Clemente, going into the right field corner to catch a fly, and then whirling around to make the perfect throw home to nail the runner trying to tag up and score on the out.
Baseball is about three base hits, where the runner and the ball arrive at the same instant, the umpire crouched to make the call. Or the 6-4-3 double play, when the second baseman hangs in there, pirouetting just in time to avoid the sliding baserunner.
Baseball should not be about cold old men, with hard eyes, who never tried to hit a curve ball, fighting over balance sheets, TV contracts, and getting taxpayers to build them new stadiums. Men who read the stock prices instead of the box scores.
Baseball is about our youth.
It is the tee baller, astonished that he has hit the ball, finally running, but taking off for the wrong base.
Or the Little League right fielder who sits down in the middle of the game, and starts picking flowers.
The coach, laughing himself, trying to get his attention back to the play.
It is about the big, awkward kid you have coached all season, who comes up to you at the team picnic, a hamburger in one hand, hot dog in the other, and says, “Coach Wood, this was the most fun I have ever had playing baseball. Can I play again for your team next year?”
Roy Campanella was right when he said that “you had to be a man to play baseball for a living, but to be good, you had to have a lot of the little boy in you.”
Yes, I love the song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” And I don’t care if I never get back.
My wonderful wife says that some day I will grow up.
I hope not.
Mike Wood is a sports correspondent for The Daily Advance.