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.
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 a 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 teammate 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. How 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, chance 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.”
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 an angry, complicated man on a mission. 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.
Almost two years have rolled around. It’s the beginning of October and the playoffs are about to begin. Our team is in them. It has been a record-breaking year, so regardless of what comes, we’ll remember 2018.
Vin Scully retired last year. I keep thinking “Maybe we can bring him back, just for this one final set of post-season games … because we need his eloquence.” The world is not running short of baseball commentators, yet I feel we need him.
Depending on how the mid-term elections go, so will go this country. It’s no small thing. It’s possible the future — our future — depends on what happens during the next few weeks. It’s daunting and frightening.
Baseball has been a saving grace for me during this otherwise disgraceful year of political ugliness and international ill-will. Could a World Series win fix this?
Somehow, I doubt it. We need something bigger than a ballpark win this year.