It’s heading toward the end of April and the Sox, last year’s series winners, are having a hard time. While not in last place, they’ve lost more than often than they’ve won. Many of the teams who were supposed to be leading their division are not doing well.
It’s early yet. If they are still tanking by the end of May, we’ll have to get serious about worrying. Garry would normally be obsessively glued to the television, but when his team isn’t playing well, he’s afraid to watch. He thinks watching is a jinx.
The sportscasters were talking about somebody getting stuck with an error because he couldn’t catch a ball on a bad bounce and how hard it is to catch them when they take an unpredictable bounce.
This got me thinking about stickball.
These professional players get gazillions of dollars to play professional baseball. They have parks with groundskeepers, bases, uniforms, baseballs, and even bats! How would they do without all that fancy stuff, huh?
We didn’t have any of that. No siree. We played that old-time American favorite, stickball. We hit with old broomsticks using a pink rubber Spalding ball — which might or might not be round.
The broomsticks were worn out. If it was any good, your mother was using it, so before you got to play, it had to be pretty beat up.
The ball? Half the time, they weren’t even round anymore. They had lumps of pink rubber which had — long in the past — been balls with bounce.
In hometown stickball, assuming you actually hit whatever was thrown (dubious), you had no way to predict where it would go. All bounces were bad. An old, not-round Spalding rubber ball could go anywhere.
The bases were “the red car over there” and “the big maple tree in front of Bobby’s house.” Everyone agreed the manhole cover was home because it was more or less in the middle of the road. Third base was the drainage grate over the sewer. Watch your feet and DON’T let the ball go down the drain.
It left the game wide open for serious disputes about fair versus foul. The team who was most vigorous in pursuing fairness or foulness got the call, especially since we were our own umpires and decisions were voted on and the bigger team (by numbers or just physically bigger) always won.
If those super highly paid athletes had to play stickball, how well do you think they’d do? I’d like to see those tough major leaguers playing stickball with a worn-out broomstick and an old pink Spalding ball bouncing wildly all over the place.
I’ve written numerous pieces about my love of baseball. I’ve shared memories of the teams I’ve followed as a diehard fan.
From the Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer in the ’40s and ’50s to Casey’s inept, Amazin’ Mets in the early ’60s.
To the sons of Teddy Ballgame who, in 2004, broke generations of hearts before smashing the curse of the Bambino and 87 years of futility. I’ve told you about meeting many baseball legends including Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Ted Williams.
Our kitchen wall includes tributes to my personal baseball hero, Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider. I met “The Duke” back when he played briefly with the Mets. It was one of the most memorable days of my life.
Like many New York youngsters of a certain era, I was in the middle of the argument about who was the best center fielder — Willie, Mickey, or The Duke. We were blessed by having three major league teams in Gotham back in those days. On any given day or night you could listen to Hall of Fame voices like Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber, or Russ Hodges describing the fortunes of the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees.
On the streets of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens – and, later, Long Island, ragtag teams of boys — identified by their block — played softball, stickball and, if lucky, baseball. The games began after school and continued, in my case, until the familiar chorus of “Garry, your mother is callin’ you. You gotta go home —now!”
Sulking, I’d drop the bat, pick up my glove and slowly, slowly walk home. I never heard the guys laughing as I left. In retrospect, I guess they were always laughing as I left the games.
I was “that kid.”
The last one picked to play on the street team. The kid they played in deep right field and prayed no ball was hit to him. I mimicked Duke Snider’s sweet left-handed batting stance. I set up in the batter’s box just like Duke so I could rip the ball to right field.
I never ripped or hit — and rarely made any contact — with the ball. I looked good. I had style.
In the field, I couldn’t catch routine fly balls or cleanly field hits and hold the runner to one base. I still had Duke Snider’s style, though. I jogged, swinging my arms up and down — in Duke’s regal manner. I was sure I had class even if I couldn’t hit or field.
My misfortune continued as a teenager when I played with the church baseball team. The Luther League.
The coaches probably felt compelled to play me because we were one of only three families of color at our church. Not to play me probably would’ve caused unrest as the predominantly German Church was trying to be progressive in the mid-1950s. No one ever said this, but, deep down, I knew
I was something of an albatross.
The Black kid with no athletic ability. I wanted to be good but I wasn’t. I was sure I’d find my niche as I grew older. I also labored under the illusion that I would gain five or six inches of height, miraculously, one night in my teenage dreams of glory. My Dad stood six feet plus, My two younger brothers already were taller than me. I always really believed I’d gain those inches when I turned 20. It had to happen. I believed.
By the early ’70s, I was a rising TV news reporter in Boston. My celebrity may have been rising but not my height. My USMC ID card read 5 feet 5 and a half inches. I’d been the shortest kid as a Marine recruit at the Parris Island Training base back in 1959. (That’s another story.)
In the early 1970’s Boston, only a handful of minority TV News Reporters existed. I was “it” on Channel 7.
When it came to the celebrity/media softball games, I could only hope to shed my athletic ineptitude. I think it was assumed — oblivious to my past — that I would be an asset to Channel 7’s team. I looked fast, had that classic Duke Snider swing and had an elegant gait. It didn’t take long for the truth to emerge.
The color of my skin didn’t guarantee athletic prowess. Still, there was some hype to my appearance on the baseball field on Boston Common. Adding to my dilemma, the minority reporters on the other teams were good players. They had achieved their bonafides. I was the new “phenom.”
It was awful. The first game I played seemed to last an eternity. I was the leadoff hitter. Big mistake.
I did manage a weak single in 3 or 4 at bats. I botched most of the balls hit to me in right field. I blamed it on the glare from the lights. They believed me and gave me “attaboys”. The rest of my Boston baseball/softball career was, in the words of Sir Charles Barkley, “terr’ble.” I remember some of my Channel 7 colleagues shaking their heads when I showed up for games. One of them, a legendary cameraman, used to giggle and laugh “Oh, Geerey … no … no.”
One of my early show-cased appearances on Channel 7 featured me in a Walter Mitty-like series. One of the Mittyish assignments had me working out, in full uniform, with the Boston Red Sox. I believe a young Pudge Fisk was catching as I dug in with my Duke Snider stance. The Towering figure on the mound supposedly tossing easy “BP” stuff to me was former fireballing right-hander, Bob Veale.
Veale was now a Sox pitching coach. I figured he’d take it easy on me. As I leveled my Duke Snider stance, I glanced out to the mound. Big Bob Veale seemed 8 feet tall. He had an evil grin on his face.
The first pitch was by me and in Fisk’s glove before I could begin my swing. Pudge giggled louder. Veale’s grin grew bigger. Remember, cameras were rolling on me for this ballyhooed TV feature.
I think I ticked the second pitch which only incensed Mr. Bob Veale. He reared back and fired what Dennis Eckersley now calls “Hot, high cheese” to me. I swung, probably 5 seconds after the ball was caught by Pudge Fisk who was now laughing.
Most of the Sox players were smiling or laughing quietly except for Johnny Pesky who offered me solace. Pesky and I would be friends until he passed away. For some reason, he took a liking to me even though I clearly had no athletic skills. Class act — Johnny Pesky.
It remained for Teddy Ballgame to put everything in perspective. We were chatting about stuff. I’d hit it off with Ted Williams who rarely bonded with the media. I suspect Mr. Pesky was my liaison.
Williams asked me to show him my swing. I did. He tossed a few pitches to me. I missed all of them. Teddy Ballgame tapped me on the shoulder, smiling, “Garry. You need to see the ball before you hit it or try to hit it. Forget it, Pal”.
I still have fantasies about being a 70-something “Roy Hobbs.”
When I was out in LA, our friends took us to an amazing museum – The Autry Museum of the West.
It included artifacts of the real west of America’s past, as well as the movie and TV versions of that same history. In fact, the museum is named after the famous “Singing Cowboy” of the early television days, Gene Autry, also the former owner of the Los Angeles/California/ Anaheim Angels Major League Baseball team from 1961 to 1997.
I took so many photos, I’m going to divide them up into three separate posts. This one will be devoted to clothing – a fascinating aspect of history.
Unlike baseball, which I enjoy regardless of who is playing, though I admit I prefer seeing our team play when they let us, we aren’t going to discuss how MLB has made it nearly impossible to see one’s home-team without buying a mega cable package or owning season tickets to the sport. That’s another issue which gets a separate cover.
Today is Super Bowl day when the winners of the National and American leagues in football play each other for unbelievably expensive rings and the option of being the talking heads for who knows how many products on television. At least we can still see football on the regular network and not have to pay hundreds of dollars extra to watch our own teams play.
Although most non-football-addicted American think that football is like it used to be 20 years ago, it isn’t. Excessive roughness is a call made constantly on the field. The giant pile-ups of huge guys to destroy the quarter or running back are illegal now. It isn’t like it used to be which I think is very much for the good of the game.
If you have been not watching football because the last time you saw it was the Disney cartoon starring Goofy, you have missed a lot of the changes that have come to the game. It’s still a rough game because sports are rough. All sports are rough, even the ones that don’t look particularly rough.
Take, for example, baseball. Do you know what pitching hundreds of balls over the course of 160 season game does to an arm? Or even the sliding and running … or that crouching the catcher does … do to a human body?
How about horseback riding? Do you know how many jockeys end their lives in wheelchairs? And how many are killed from falls that no helmet will fix?
Sports are hard on humans. All sports are hard on humans. Even sitting at a computer all day long is rough on parts of your body.
So if your reason for not watching football is that it’s too rough for a mortal humanoid, consider warfare and many of the “easy” sports we all are required to learn in school. Volleyball (tore my ankle up on that one), running (how many knees needed rebuilding after that?), shot-putting, pole vaulting, tennis (does your elbow still work?) … all of which take a serious toll on the person playing it.
I know that we all think it’s healthy that our kids get up and go out in the world enjoy physical activity because that’s healthy, right? Healthy activity comes at a price. Knees and backs are destroyed and many are never repaired.
Some folks are stronger than others and can withstand the battering better than others. Some can simply take more abuse, but others can take a lot less and don’t know it until it’s too late.
Like me, for example. I fell off a few horses. I didn’t even fall very hard, but I fell right on my butt. Or more to the point, I feel on the base of my spine. After a while — not a long while, either — I couldn’t walk properly anymore. I didn’t stop riding, even after the surgery which should have stopped me.
How about downhill skiers? And hockey and figure skaters?
There IS no sport that does not take a serious and potentially life-threatening toll on the body performing it.
Players have multiple surgeries on shoulders and elbows and spines and knees and get clobbered badly enough to end their life with sports-induced Alzheimer’s disease.
Don’t be fooled by thinking if something “looks easy” that it is easy. Ballerinas destroy their feet while male dancers crush their spines. The life of a professional dancer is shorter than that of an NFL player. And that’s not even sports. That’s ART.
Does any of this mean we should all stop doing anything risky? Of course not. But we should also be aware that when our kids complain that something is hurting them, to make sure that there’s no serious damage and to get that possible hurting checked by a doctor who actually knows the difference between bruising and serious damage.
I do not even know how many people are twisted into wrecks by middle age from sports they played when they were teenagers.
1969 was the year I learned to fly. The world spun faster on its axis. Everything changed. We had the best music and the most fun we’d ever have again. It was before AIDS, too. Sex was fun — and the worst disease you could get was something a doctor could fix with a shot of antibiotics.
Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I watched it unfold. I was a new mother with a 2-month old baby boy. I wasn’t working yet and was finished with college. I was at home with the baby, not working, no studying. I had time to see the world unroll.
We were going to make the world a better place, end war. End bigotry, race prejudice, inequality. Turns out, it didn’t quite work out the way we planned, but our hearts were pure, even if we were also stoned.
It was a great time to get work, too because the world was opening up. You could still get an interview with a live person who might actually hire you. We had hope and we believed.
I saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. We saw it on CBS. It was obvious Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there too. Up there, with Neil and the rest of Apollo 11. He could barely control his excitement, almost in tears, his voice breaking with emotion.
The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest for that historic broadcast. Neil Armstrong died last year. He had a good life. Unlike so many others who fell from grace, he remained an honorable man: a real American hero.
How I envied him his trip to the moon. Maybe the Mother Ship will come for us. If they could fix the old folks on Cocoon, maybe there’s room for Garry and me. Off to the stars? Sounds like a good deal. Earth, these days, is a total bummer.
Woodstock was that summer. There were rumors flying about this amazing rock concert that was going to happen upstate. I had friends who had tickets and were going. I was busy with the baby and wished them well.
There were hippies giving out flowers in Haight-Ashbury, but I didn’t envy them. Because I was happy that year, probably happier than I’d ever been and in some ways, happier than at anytime since.
I was young, still healthy. I believed we would change the world, end war, make the world a better place. I still thought the world could be changed. All we had to do was love one another and join together to make it happen. Vietnam was in high gear, but we were sure it would end any day … and though we found out how terribly wrong we were, for a while we saw the future bright and full of hope.
I had a baby boy and I sang “Everything’s Fine Right Now” which I first heard sung by the Holy Modal Rounders at a local folk music club. They were the most stoned group of musicians I’d ever met, but the song was also a great lullaby. It made my baby boy laugh.
It was the year of the Miracle Mets. I watched as they took New York all the way to the top. A World Series win. 1969. What a year. I rocked my son to sleep and discovered Oktoberfest beer. New York went crazy for the Mets. It should have been the Dodgers, but they’d abandoned us for the west coast.
I wore patchwork bell-bottom jeans and rose-tinted spectacles. I had long fringes on my sleeves and a baby on my hip.
Music was wonderful. How young we were! We could do anything, or so we thought.
We were going to end THE war and right every wrong. As we found the peak, we would almost immediately drop back into a dark valley. For a year, though, one great year, the stars aligned and everything was as it should be.
Decades passed. Being young was a long time ago. We use lots of drugs, but they control our blood pressure, not our state of consciousness. They are no fun at all.
I worry about Social Security and Medicare and I know I’m not going to fix what’s wrong with the world. I’ve lived a lifetime. My granddaughter is the age I was then.
I’ve remarried, lived in another country, owned houses, moved from the city to the country, and partied with a President … but 1969 remains my year.
Last night, I found myself staying up very late — much too late — to watch the end of the final game in the Yankees-Red Sox 4-game matchup. Garry had gone to bed.
When he went to bed, the Yankees were winning 4 – 1 and it looked like they were going to win at least that final game in the series. I wasn’t so sure. I figured I would get to the bedroom and Garry would be watching it.
Wrong. He was sound asleep.
What happened to us? He’s asleep … and I’m up way later than I should have been watching baseball? When did we switch roles?
The Sox and the Yankees are one of those classic sports rivalries that always brings out the crowds. This year, our Red Sox are playing brilliantly which no one expected, least of all, us. They just keep winning.
When Garry went to bed after the end of the 7th inning. For you non-baseball types, a standard game is nine innings and typically lasts three to four hours. Since games can’t end in a tie, occasionally, they go on a lot longer by which time the stadium is empty and the announcers are asleep.
A 1908 recording of “Take me out to the ball game” just to get your spirits up!
In the bottom of the ninth — final inning — the Sox knocked in three runs and the score was tied. The game went to the 10th inning, overtime.
We won. I actually had to wake Garry up and tell him “We won.”
“We won?” he mumbled.
“Bottom of the ninth, the Sox knocked in three runs and then one more in the tenth.”
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