I’ve been travelling down Memory Lane recently, far from the madding crowd of reality. The stark reality of the January 6th hearings, reality that resembles the madness of movies like “Seven Days In May”, “The Parallax View” and “The Manchurian Candidate” have been riveting.
The Supreme Court and its “Roe V Wade” decision has streets across our nation rumbling in disarray not seen since Watergate, the Vietnam War protests, and Civil Rights marches in the deep south where hangman’s nooses framed beloved family ice cream parlors.
This is no country for old people, or those seeking
reason, sanity, and justice.
So, through treasured old books, I retreat to my personal safehouse, baseball. The baseball of my youth personified by the “Boys of Summer,” the fabled Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940s and 50s. A time of youthful innocence when my attention wasn’t focused on the Cold War but on baseball heroes like Duke, Jackie, PeeWee, Campy, and Gil.
Fireflies lit summer nights as I listened to the radio and Vin Scully’s incomparable accounts of Dodger victories and defeats. The games, in vivid radio color, lulled me into dreams of when I would take my place wearing Dodger Blue while the Ebbets Field faithful cheered my heroic plays. There was no place for political angst in the mind of that baseball-happy boy. Trying to recapture that innocence is no easy feat for an 80-year-old retiree. Reality bites hard these days.
Baseball was my retreat from reality as a young man dipping his toes into becoming a network newswriter, editor, and producer in the mid and late 1960s. Through those mind-numbing days and nights, I covered most of the major stories of the decade which changed our nation and world. Work gave me a front row seat to Watergate, Civil Rights, political assassinations, our first man on the moon (no relation), and Woodstock.
Baseball had its place in the real world too. I got a front row seat to watching the New York Mets complete their improbable victory season. The once stumbling, inept Mets morphed from a local joke to international darlings, cocktail chit-chat for those who couldn’t tell the difference between Spiro Agnew and Choo Choo Coleman.
“Ya Gotta Believe!” was the mantra from Met’s reliever Tug McGraw (Tim’s father) and was embraced across the sporting world.
Gil Hodges, former Dodgers star and Mets manager, had difficulty maintaining his “quiet man” image. As skipper of “The Amazins,” Gil Hodges could have run for the presidency. All things considered, that wouldn’t have been as crazy an idea as it seemed “back then.”
The Mets’ success enabled me to enjoy great gulps of mental champagne and blot out for hours the dire events of the real world. Baseball came to my rescue. Amidst the chaotic world of network news, we could pause to echo “How ’bout those Mets!” Time for a laugh and a cheer before doubling back to the crisis of the hour.
Even legendary news commentator Paul “And, now for the rest of the story” Harvey succumbed to Mets mania. Harvey handed me a script that read like a Casey Stengel PR release. Baseball softened the hardest of hearts in 1969, a year that became a time capsule.
Fast forward to a new century and a newly-minted AARP-age TV newsman still chasing stories in Boston and throughout New England. The endless stories of murders, blizzards, floods, fires, and political corruption had me taking a hard look at my “fire in the belly” early career. The excitement was becoming depression. I’d made too many visits for responses from those who’d lost loved ones to “senseless” violence. I felt ethically soiled by my glamorous job. The bitter taste in my mouth was relieved by baseball. This time it was the Boston Red Sox, still chasing a world series championship after more than eight decades of heartbreak.
2004. It was my third year of retirement. I was following the news. The news biz gets gets into your blood, even after your “on the air” days are long over. The breaking news stories had everyone reaching for their aspirin or sniffin’ glue. They made me feel especially helpless. In the past, I could dive into my “newsman” alter ego and talk directly to the newsmakers. If that seems to contradict my other complaints, yes — but that’s the nature of the business.
The Red Sox came to my rescue.
I should’ve had Sinatra singing “It Was A Very Good Year” as we watched the Red Sox pull off their historic comeback from the jaws of defeat against long-time rival Yankees. I heard Tug McGraw’s “Ya Gotta Believe” floating in the air as Fenway’s boys of summer turned a three-loss disaster into a bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow.
And then …
It was high drama as the Red Sox took the pennant from the Yankees — tears of joy after decades of frustration. I became simultaneously an astounded senior citizen and an ever-optimistic young fan. I was stunned as the Red Sox first lost three, then turned around and won four straight against the Yankees. And then, they swept the Cardinals to win their first World Series since 1918, thus ending “the curse” which began when Babe Ruth was traded from Boston to the Yankees.
One of the New York tabloids had the headline:
“Hell has frozen over!”
As our nation twists in a darkening political wind, my mind is again focused on our boys of summer. Ya gotta believe!