I LIKE BASEBALL – Marilyn Armstrong

I enjoy baseball. I used to enjoy it because Garry is such a passionate fan of the sport, I was either going to learn to like it, or spend half the year having no one to talk to because there was a game on television.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Gradually, I got to really like the game for its own sake. Its complexity. The slow, careful way it unfolds. The subtleties of how the ball is thrown, how the pitcher finds the seams and throws so the ball dips or rises. How it is caught and by whom. The way the field is set up, depending on who is hitting. All those decisions about running and stealing.

Errors.

Was it a mental or physical error? What other sport takes the time to figure out whether the subject thought wrongly or just did the wrong thing? Imagine a football announcer discussing whether that hit was a mental or physical error? No one talks “mental” in football, despite the enormous complexity of the game. Baseball is relatively simple compared to football.

Garry and Harvey Leonard, famed meteorologist, sharing old Dodger baseball memories

Stop and think about all the things that must go through the mind of the quarterback and his team to make a play. It is — sorry for the pun — mind-boggling.

The point is, I like baseball and I sort of like football, though I’m less familiar with its finer points than baseball. Football makes me say “OUCH! That really had to hurt!” while watching. I’m amazed anyone has a brain after it gets whacked during the game.

Gate D – Fenway Park

People who don’t like sports don’t get it. They don’t see the point. Why bother? It’s just a bunch of guys running around a square before when a ball gets whacked by a batter.

Can you whack that ball? If you can do it regularly, you can get paid as much as $250 million for — I’m not sure — maybe 10 years? Does whatever you do pay that well? So, however dumb you may think it is, if they would pay you that much money, you think you might run around the bases? Yeah, I think so too.

So now we get do why is it dumber to play baseball then do something else? Is working in a bank smarter? For that matter, is writing manuals for software inherently more intelligent — or is it just something I do well enough to get paid?

Mostly, what we do for a living depends on what we are good at. It’s nice when it’s something thoughtful where you can make a difference, whatever that means these days. But most of us just do the best we can with whatever talents we have. Maybe it makes a difference — sometimes — and then again, maybe it doesn’t.

So why is running around during a ball game sillier than sitting in front of a computer writing code for computer games? What is the difference except that ball players make a lot more money (because it’s easier to find a coder than a pitcher or a guy who can hit 50 home runs)?

So much of what we do in life is pretty dumb. We don’t do what we do to be smart. We do it because it earns our living and we need a paycheck. We do it because it’s enjoyable. It makes us smile, laugh, cheer and feel good about something that isn’t politics or money. Our life is not on the line. It’s just fun.

If you are one of the intensely annoying people who despises sports because they are stupid, ask yourself a question: What do you do in your life which is so much smarter? And how well do you get paid to do it?

Who is smarter, really?

SYNCHRONICITY: 42 AND 42 – Marilyn Armstrong

Today was Jackie Robinson day in baseball and everyone wore a shirt with the number “42” emblazoned on it. Now, I’m enough of a baseball nerd to know that Jack Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball was a big deal. A huge deal. It was the true beginning of the break from segregation to whatever we are doing these days.

We watched the movie “42” again. And loved it. Again. You can read the review here and it is one of the best reviews I’ve ever written, along with Garry, the total complete baseball nerd.

The thing is, I’m also a total science fiction nerd — and, speaking of freaky coincidence — Douglas Adams shares my birthday. And we ALL know what he thought of forty-two. It was the number that made the world … well … the world. 42 is the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” It is the answer.

Sadly, the question remains unknown.

So how could Jackie Robinson and the answer to the question “what is the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything” be the same number?

Synchronicity of course. History rhymes and so do numbers. Phone numbers and house numbers and the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. I’m absolutely sure that Douglas Adams knew exactly what he was doing when he picked that number. He knew.


Jackie Robinson and his number, 42, IS the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. It is. Think about it. He broke the world open and it will never, ever go back to the way it was before he did it. 

 

OLD FRIENDS (LEANING TOGETHER LIKE BOOKENDS)

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Objects or People Older than 50 years


Anyone remember when 50 sounded “old” and 60 was about as close to The End as we could imagine? Life has altered — just a little — since then.

Those of us who don’t die young — we lost a few early on — tend to live longer than our parents did. Many of us are pondering if we really want to live to 100. If you aren’t sure, there are some 90+ actors, singers, and dancers to give you hope!

Han Pot – made around 206 BC–220 AD – That’s pretty old! These were the first mass-produced kitchen pottery.
Fenway Park – Built 1912 on the same day on which the Titanic sank. Probably explains the “real” curse.
Old Number Two, dating back to the 1950s and currently undergoing restoration.
Prow on The Beaver, a cargo ship dating to the 1700s.
Steeple of the abandoned Unitarian Universalist church in Uxbridge. Built in the 1880s, I think. Might be earlier, but I’m not sure.

I have a lot of old friends. I’m not including them. No need to thank  me. I am, after all, one of you, too.

A FRIGID DAY FOR THE SEASON OPENER?

COLD. NOT FRIGID. IT IS SPRING IN NEW ENGLAND.

It has been a cold spring. This is not, despite all the complaining, particularly unusual. Spring weather in New England is notoriously unstable and it’s not unusual for the weather to also be surprisingly cold. We’ve had a few very warm springs too.

It will stay cold and cold and cold and we’ll get a little snow here and there — which will melt off almost immediately — and then, suddenly, in about three weeks, it will turn into a perfect spring.

Perfect spring will last about 4 hours, after which, it’s time to install your air conditioners because suddenly, it’s summer.

It’s like this most years, except when it’s exactly the opposite. Spring weather is erratic. Why is everyone making such a fuss about it? I too would like to see some lovely spring flowers but spring isn’t a real “season” in this region. Mostly, it’s a few hours between winter and summer.

Fellow New Englanders! Give us a break! It would have been nice to have the baseball spring opening day a little less chilly, but it is what it is.

Get used to it already. Sheesh!

BASEBALL AND A LOSS OF INNOCENCE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

A friend took me to a Red Sox Game at Fenway Park. It was the middle of April, so there was a chill in the wind. I layered up and topped it off with my retro Brooklyn Dodgers tee-shirt. It was Jackie Robinson day. Everyone was wearing the fabled #42.

red sox 42 jackie robinson day
April 15, 2016 – Fenway Park

April is the beginning of the new baseball season, when hope springs eternal. Anything could happen. The haves and have-nots are equally in the race. For me, it’s also when I open the cookie jar of memories, mentally racing around the bases to those days when I listened to our boys of summer on the radio.

Vin Scully was a 20-something rookie broadcaster, calling his first season of Brooklyn Dodgers games.

The Korean “conflict” dominated the radio news, which preceded the important stuff, baseball. The Brooklyn Dodgers were “America’s Team” in 1950. Vin Scully was a new breed of sports broadcaster. He mixed in stories about President Truman’s desegregation of our Armed Forces and “discontent” about the integrated Dodgers’ team.

Scully used phrases like “Goodnight, sweet Prince”,  after Jackie Robinson turned in another memorable game amid jeers from rabble-rousers. It was curious to this young fan who dreamed of becoming a team-mate of Jackie Robinson, Peewee Reese, and Duke Snider. I’d wear Dodger Blue with pride, I promised myself.

I thought it would be wonderful if they played baseball all year round and the stories would always be about the Bums and the dreaded New York Yankees. Heck, it would be terrific to listen to Vin Scully and not those other people talking about grown up stuff. Scully even mentioned things we were studying in school and made them sound exciting. I’ll never forget his referring to April as “the cruelest month.” I’d steal that line a zillion times.

A couple of decades later, opportunity opened the door to meetings with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and other fabled Boys of Summer. Campy was friendly and outgoing, eager to share stories with a newbie reporter. He would say, “Life is good, young fella. You gotta appreciate it.”

Jackie Robinson would glare at Campy as he wove the stories of good times with the Dodgers. Sometimes, he would interrupt Campanella with a sharp, “Enough, Roy. Enough of that fiction.”

72-Jackie-Robinson-Baseball-HOF_038

Robinson would turn to me, his eyes blazing, seemingly angry. “Life isn’t a ball game, young man,” he once said.  Then, he gently patted me on the shoulder, noting that I was a good conversationalist and listener.  It was a bit confusing. It happened that way several times.

People like Campy, Peewee Reese and even a reluctant Duke Snider would share that Jackie Robinson was a very complicated man on a mission.

PBS is again running Ken Burns’ two part portrait of Jackie Robinson. It goes beyond myth and legend to examine Robinson, the man. The man from Cairo, Georgia was so much more than the athlete who broke baseball’s racial barrier. The inner turmoil, anger, frustration, and multiple health issues took Robinson from us way too early, at age 53.

1950. So long ago. A time of innocence for many young boys like me.


Another year has rolled to its finale. It’s the middle of December. In a few weeks, it will be 2018.

Vin Scully retired. Though the world is not running short of baseball commentators, no one can match his style, his class, his understanding of the game, or the poetry he added to his commentary.

In baseball, the winter meetings are in progress. Are we going to make a deal? We need a slugger. We picked up someone, but he’s the kind of slugger who is no kind of fielder and misses the ball a lot. I suppose as a DH, maybe. I guess we’ll see. Before I look around, spring training will begin. Maybe the world will seem all fresh and new in the spring.

Roy Moore lost in Alabama. For the first time in 25 years. A Democrat for the Senate. I guess they decided to not elect a pedophile after all. Even in Alabama, there are limits and a glimmer of decency. Doug Jones — one more vote against the horrors of Trumpism.

Baseball has been a saving grace for me during this otherwise disgraceful year of political ugliness and international ill-will. I wonder if a World Series win would fix it? Somehow, I doubt it. We need more than a ballpark win this year.

FENWAY FLAGS – THURSDAY’S SPECIAL ON A SUNDAY MORNING

THURSDAY’S SPECIAL: SEQUENCE

 

Stadiums are, by design, sequential. Pillar after pillar, flag after flag. Layers of seating up and across. This is Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox baseball team. It is the oldest baseball stadium in the United States, the only antique park still standing.

NOTE: Evil Squirrel corrected me. Only one of TWO antique stadiums still standing. The other one is the lovely Wrigley Field in Chicago. It is two or three years newer than Fenway (built in 1912), so it’s practically “the new kid in town.”

jupiter najnajnoviji

AN INTERVIEW WITH LYNN NOVICK – BASEBALL – SEPTEMBER 1998

This piece was published in Planet Vineyard in September 1998. It was a short-lived magazine. Long on great writing, short on paid advertising. I realized that hardly anyone ever saw this piece. It is based on my interview with Lynn Novick who was the co-producer of “Baseball” with Ken Burns. Since we are watching the series again — for I think the third or fourth time since it premiered on PBS in 1998, I thought … “Gee, why not publish it where someone might actually read it?” And here it is. Because before I was a blogger, I was a writer.


Lynn Novick Profile

by Marilyn Armstrong

Take a passion for American history and mix it with a handful of Hollywood star-dust. Add a generous pinch of altruism. Spice the batter with a measure of luck. Bake for three and a half years in the oven of hard work. Voilà, meet Lynn Novick, co-producer (with Ken Burns of Civil War fame) of the upcoming 18-1/2 hour PBS mini-series, Baseball.

It’s a breezy, crystal clear day on Martha’s Vineyard. As she unwinds with her husband Robert and daughter Eliza in their summer home overlooking the sea, Lynn Novick emits bursts of energy you can virtually see as well as feel. The enthusiasm is contagious, even if you think that baseball has nothing to do with you. Though Baseball is “in the can and ready to go,” she remains a passionate advocate of America’s Pastime and what it means to the people of this nation. Making this mini series was arduous, but it was a labor of love.

It’s difficult to get Lynn to talk about herself. She wants to talk about Baseball. She wants to tell you how the game encapsulates America’s history and cultural development. She wants you to know how well it illustrates our changing values and shows as we really are, both good and bad.

“Baseball,” she says, “is our link to a collective past. It connects all of us, no matter where we come from, to the American experience. It’s our common ground, an historic thread woven into the fabric of our culture. The history of baseball is our history.”

Strong words, you think. She must have grown up a dedicated baseball fan.

“Actually,” confesses Lynn. “I was just a casual fan. My parents enjoyed baseball. My father was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan … he never quite got over the Dodgers’ move to the West Coast. I grew up believing that Ebbets Field was sacred ground. My dad taught me to throw and catch, but I wasn’t a little league player or even a committed fan. I started out with an affection for baseball and a belief that the Yankees are the enemy. Everything else I picked up in progress. Now, I could go head-to-head with any baseball expert. Just try me.”

Lynn Novick with Ken Burns
Lynn Novick with Ken Burns

Lynn has had a total immersion baseball experience. Since 1990, she has lived Baseball. She dreamed it, planned it, read about it. She met heroes out of legend. The editing process alone consumed two and a half years. She was the architect of all sixty-five interviews and conducted more than half of these herself. She spent endless days and weeks on research, filming, and organizing every detail of the production.

Baseball has given Lynn Novick an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport.

“It’s had some interesting side effects,” she muses. “Baseball has turned out to be the key to the men’s room, so to speak. I find myself having serious discussions with all kinds of men, all ages, all professions. When they realize that I know my stuff, it’s instant acceptance. It’s a misconception that sports are a ‘guy’ thing, though. I’ve met plenty of women and girls who are serious fans, too.”

Lynn did not grow up yearning to be a film-maker. She never thought of herself as especially visual and had no pretensions of becoming the next John Ford. Until the day she decided she wanted to make documentaries, Lynn Novick never considered film-making as a career. From Manhattan’s upper West Side, where she grew up, she earned a bachelor’s in American Studies at Yale in 1983. The child of two academics, Lynn intended to follow in their footsteps. Her first job was at the Smithsonian Institute. But museum work didn’t “do it” for her.

“I needed something more hands-on, more engaging. Academia was too theoretical, too out of touch. I’m not sure how I decided I wanted to make documentary films. I think it was a combination of things. I’ve always loved the movies. I study history. I need my work to have social value. Making documentary films brings all the strands together. I can bring history to life.“

With the Giants in San Francisco
With the Giants in San Francisco

Once she decided what she wanted, she didn’t waste any time. She moved back to New York, interviewed at PBS. Shortly thereafter she began working on the Joseph Campbell series.

“That’s where I learned the basics of production,” she says. “How did I move on from there? Fate. Luck. Both probably. I knew someone who was working with Ken Burns on the Civil War project. She wanted to quit, but didn’t want to leave him in the lurch. So she introduced me to him, told him she was leaving and said “but look, here’s someone to take my place.” Ken was in the middle of the project. He didn’t have time to go looking for someone else, so he hired me as associate producer.”

Luck may have played a part in her first collaboration with Ken Burns, but talent earned her the co-producer’s slot on Baseball. Tapping into her extraordinarily high energy level, she worked flat-out for the duration of the project. She supervised a million details. She viewed hundreds of hours of film over and over again throughout the seemingly endless editing process.

In the middle of the project, Lynn became pregnant. She continued working throughout her pregnancy. After giving birth to Eliza, she took four months leave.

baseball-boxed-setHer personal choices made the transition from new mother to film producer less stressful. Rather than give Eliza over to caretakers, Lynn chose to bring the little one to work with her. Eliza made a delightful addition to the Baseball staff. If early environment is any indicator of future development, look for Eliza among the next generation of filmdom’s luminaries.

Right now, Lynn Novick and family are enjoying a well-earned time-out on a Chilmark hilltop. The home originally belonged to her husband Robert’s parents and is now owned jointly by Robert and his sister. The two families share the premises with ease.

“I’ve been coming here for eleven summers,” says Lynn. “Even though the place belonged to Robert’s family, it’s a very special place for me. I can’t imagine summer anywhere else. Even more than Robert, this is where I want to be. There’s something about the air here,” she smiles.

What’s next? “I don’t know yet,” says Lynn. “This is my time to get to know my daughter, reconnect with my husband and myself. There’s a kind of ‘post partum’ down period after a production finishes. One day you’re working full tilt, the next day, suddenly, there’s free time. It’s quite a shock.”


You can stream Baseball on Amazon Prime. You can buy the series on DVD from PBS and other places. The Major League Baseball Channel is running it right now and it shows up reasonably often on various cable channels.

If you have not seen it, whether or not you are a baseball fan or any kind of sports fan, this series so beautifully written and produced, it’s worth your time.