ME AND “THE NATURAL” (1984) – GARRY ARMSTRONG

“God, I LOVE baseball.”

It’s a line that comes up near the end of Robert Redford’s 1984 film, “The Natural.” Redford’s “Roy Hobbs” character is reflecting on the odd turns his life has taken, but he is still playing baseball, still chasing his dream. It’s a wistful, melancholy reflection because the protagonist has lost many productive years because of a bizarre and almost fatal incident.

As many of you know, I’m a life-long baseball fan with roots dating back to the late 1940’s and the Boys of Summer, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I’ve always loved baseball!  It’s had an almost hypnotic grip on me. I fantasize about baseball the way some men day-dream about a tryst with a beautiful woman. There are only a handful of really good baseball movies. Hollywood, for some reason, hasn’t been able to get a grip on baseball. The short list of good baseball movies includes “The Natural”, “Bull Durham”, “Field of Dreams”, “Major League” (The original), “42”, “Cobb”, “A League of Their Own” and one or two I’ve forgotten.

“The Natural” and “Field of Dreams” top my list.  Some baseball purists, including a couple of Boston sports writers I know, claim those films are too hokey and sentimental. I disagree. Both films carry the lyricism of baseball. They are “print the legend” movies about America’s national pastime. Pro football is great but baseball is special, part of the fabric of our American dream.

My favorite memories, then and now, are of baseball games played during hot summer afternoons. They are languid, not long. Each at bat is drama unto itself. What will the pitcher throw? Can the batter hit the 100 mph fastball? It’s really a chess match between two teams, managers trying to out-scheme each other. I still stand and gasp when great defensive plays are made. This year’s Boston Red Sox have several gifted young players. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr, and Andrew Benentendi are capable of highlight reel plays in the blur of a second. It’s a joy to watch them play.

Field of Dreams – the Ghostfield

The long-maligned Chicago Cubs were the talk of the Nation last year when they won their first World Series in over a century. Everyone felt good for the Cubbies and their fans. It didn’t really matter that your team was on the outside looking in. Real baseball fans have a special bond. Our political leaders might take note.

The New York Yankees have their own core of talented young players.  Mother of mercy, did I just say that?  Never in the wide, wide world of sports did I think I’d watch and appreciate the dreaded Yankees. Applaud “The Pinstripes”?  Family and old friends would gasp in disbelief. The “Baby Bombers” include Aaron Judge, a giant of a young slugger who is setting the baseball world on its ear. Judge, 6’7″ or 6′ 8″ is a muscled Paul Bunyon who appears on the verge of becoming a legend as a rookie. He’s already surpassed Joe DiMaggio’s record for home runs by a rookie and we’re just past the midway mark of the season.  Aaron Judge has the looks and personality of one of those old “Wheaties” Breakfast of Champions heroes. I tune into Yankee games just to catch Judge at bat. His home runs are routinely Ruthian.  You have to be a genuine baseball fan to appreciate Aaron Judge in a Yankee uniform. He appears to be (so far) this generation’s new superstar without the baggage of arrogance or rumors of drugs.

The new generation of Yankees and Red Sox promises to fire up their long rivalry, hopefully with appreciation rather than spiteful dislike.

The Yanks visit Fenway Park in a few days for a four-game series. It promises to be exciting and fun for all. It certainly will get me away from our national political angst.

All of which brings me back to “The Natural.” I’m 75 and still have boyish dreams. Yes, some are X-rated. Men are pigs. No argument. However, most of my dreams are about baseball. I’m Roy Hobbs who is a composite of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and (for me), Duke Snider.

Robert Redford admits he copied Ted Williams’ batting stance, even his uniform number 9. Redford’s grace on the base paths and in the outfield remind me of my hero, Duke Snider. There’s a sense of grace to his movements, even the way he swings his shoulders as he runs. I shamelessly copied those movements when I played baseball as a not-very-gifted youth and adult.

If I could have one genie wish, it would be to morph as Roy Hobbs in his prime. I think now, more than ever, America needs Roy Hobbs to hit a walk off home run and send us home with unbounded happiness.

OCTOBER! GUESS WHO IS ON FIRST?

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It’s October and you know what that means. Well, I guess that depends on how you feel about baseball. For us, on a good year, it’s the beginning of the playoffs. On a not so good year (like last year and the year before), it’s the end of the Red Sox — until next spring.

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But, surprise! It’s been a good year and the Red Sox have clinched the American League East division, so we’re in it for at least one more round.

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And it’s the right time to play the class bit of Americana from Abbot and Costello. WHO’S ON FIRST is Abbot and Costello at their funniest. They used to run this in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on a continuous loop. They’ve remodeled the museum and much to our disappointment it’s not there anymore. But maybe it will be back at the museum someday. In the meantime, here it is.

We can all use a laugh.

JACKIE ROBINSON DAY – EPILOGUE – Garry Armstrong

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Twilight was frosty at Fenway Park on Friday, April 15th. Income tax deadline day for some, JACKIE ROBINSON DAY for those of us who jammed the baseball shrine in Boston’s Kenmore Square. Pilgrims and Players, everyone wore number 42 in tribute to the man who broke baseball’s racial barrier and stirred a nation’s conscience 69 years ago, with World War Two still casting a long shadow.

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Grantland Rice’s archaic litany, “It’s not about winning or losing, it’s how you play the game”, echoed silently as a winter’s night chilled the crowd. Arch rivals, Boston and Toronto, displayed respect instead of animosity. Batters picked up the catcher’s mask in flashes of sportsmanship rarely seen these days.

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Big Papi stole second base, likely to be his only stolen base of the year and sent the crowd into a frenzy. The pilgrims erupted with joy and players on both teams broke into smiles and laughter.

An image of the young Jackie Robinson split the jumbo screen with a replay of Big Papi’s theft of second.

The message was clear.

For one night, 2016 Boston was 1950’s Brooklyn. You could almost hear Vin Scully’s poetic calls of the plays by Jackie Robinson and the other fabled Boys of Summer.

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It was parka and gloves weather as the game wound down but few left the ball park. Eventually, the Red Sox prevailed over the Blue Jays.

The crowd slowly filed out, songs filled the night. “Sweet Caroline” mixed in with “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” The image of Jackie Robinson in his prime filled a neon billboard. A night to remember.

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See: VIN SCULLY, JACKIE ROBINSON AND A LOSS OF INNOCENCE – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG for the rest of the story.

ALMS FOR THE RED SOX – GARRY ARMSTRONG

If you are a real baseball fan, you live and die with your team’s success and failure. It’s all about winning, not how you play the game.

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I’ve been passionate about baseball for more than 65 years of my life. The pre baseball years were devoted to kid stuff like cowboys and Indians. I’ve rooted for three teams in my life. The Brooklyn Dodgers, Casey’s original Amazin’ New York Mets, and the Boston Red Sox.

Agony and ecstasy have marked my love for these teams. All were perennial long-time losers, demonizing generations of their followers. Victory as in winning the World Series was the sweetest wine ever tasted.

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When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, their first title since the end of World War One, peace was bestowed on generations in the Red Sox Nation. The Bosox have since won two more World Series, totaling three in nine years. Success is now expected by the pilgrims who discovered baseball after 2000 and (current) new Sox ownership.

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Great expectations easily breed discontent. In the Red Sox Nation, the grapes of wrath are growing because of the team’s mediocre pitching, despite off-season trades and free-agent signings to bolster the offense.

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The suits who run Fenway’s boys of summer club refuse to deal for quality pitching. They claim to be satisfied with the mediocrity of the current staff, saying the arms will improve with time. One of the pitchers is already on the disabled list with a “tired arm”, six weeks into the season and with an ERA over five.

The suits say it’s still early. They don’t want to deal or spend foolishly.

Marilyn and I recently made our pilgrimage to Boston’s cathedral of baseball. The Sox were playing out-of-town, so we could move around easily, observing the salutes to past teams.

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You could hear murmurs about the current Sox and their woeful pitching. What to do?

Marilyn decided to help boost the team’s financial coffers and bought a nifty hat. It was a bargain! Only 3 times what you would pay at your favorite department store not named the “Red Sox Team Store.” Marilyn should get a lot of use out of her hat. Its brim has more snap to it than most of the curve balls thrown by the Red Sox starters.

It’s a long season. Maybe Marilyn’s purchase will be the alms that bring quality arms to our beloved team.

Maybe. Not.

RAMBLINGS OF A SLEEP DEPRIVED RED SOX FAN

Not being able to sleep is a serious bummer. In my case, it’s my back. I can’t find a comfortable position and the drugs that are supposed to make me sleep are not nearly as strong as the back pain. It’s not that I don’t sleep at all. I sleep a little. Restless, light sleep and then I’m up again. Waking and sleeping and waking again. As I said: Bummer.

Sunrise

It gives me a lot of time to think during those long, uncomfortable nights. I think about what I should do that I haven’t done. I really get myself going by thinking about what I did do that I shouldn’t have done. Best of all, there is what I should have done differently. In that direction lies true madness and I don’t recommend it.

Eventually, I crawl out of bed, get sort of dressed. I turn on the coffee, throw the dogs out into the cruel world to do their business, then settle into the recliner in the living room. Blearily drinking coffee as the sun sort of rises. It’s been grey and dark for the past three days, so it never really feels like daytime has come and sunrise is just a slightly lighter color grey than night.

Right before bed last night, Garry and I were having a conversation. It was a reminder of why I love that man. We were talking about baseball. For those of you who aren’t fans and don’t follow this stuff, the “winter meetings” are in progress. This is when teams dig into their pockets, pull out their checkbooks, and negotiate with players.  Whatever the holes in their lineups — pitching, hitting, fielding — they are going to try to sign players to fill the roster for the coming year. Hopefully, for a lot longer than just one season.

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The Red Sox, our home team, traded away pretty much the entire pitching staff at the end of last season in favor of a bunch of sluggers. Not that it helped much because we still managed to get a firm grip on last place and hold it to the bitter end.

So, no one is arguing they didn’t need the offensive players, but perhaps they might have shown a bit more restraint in cutting loose people like Jon Lester, who clearly didn’t want to be traded and is the el primo pitcher in baseball. This week, as the meetings continue, they are trying — balls to the wall — to get him to come back to Boston — and he isn’t playing nice. No home town discounts this round of talks.

I said “They over-estimated their ability to sweet-talk him back to Boston.”

Garry said “They over-estimated their clout at the winter meetings.”

I said “They under-estimated how pissed off he was at getting traded.

And Garry summed it up. “Hubris,” he said. “Hubris. Gets them every time.”

Hubris: (noun) Excessive pride or self-confidence. Synonyms: arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, hauteur, pride, self-importance, egotism, pomposity, superciliousness, superiority; more. Antonyms: humility
(In Greek tragedy) Excessive pride toward, or defiance of, the gods, leading to nemesis.

“Hubris,” I agreed. “That covers the whole thing.” After which we stumbled off to bed.

But in how many husband-wife discussions does “hubris” figure? Not a lot, in my experience. That we can have conversations like this and not have to say “Come again?” or “What do you mean by that?” makes a world of difference, to me at least.

Better yet, it was all about baseball. They should have held on to Lester. Especially in view of the fact that Lester just signed with the Chicago Cubs for 6 years at $155,000,000 with a 7th vesting year that could take the contract up to $170,000,000.

Theo Epstein, who left the Red Sox with a mad on because they didn’t treat him well — and Lester, who was unceremoniously traded by the Red Sox against his wishes and thus also departed with a mad on, got together to jointly stick it to the Red Sox. I’m sure they are both smiling. Chicago has reason to celebrate while Boston scrambles to find a couple of top-quality pitchers. Good luck with that.

Hubris, hubris, hubris.


(Note: In case the Daily Prompt gets their act together this is part of today’s dysfunctional prompt: All or Nothing? – “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.” — Sylvia Plath

The Red Sox wanted everything. I hope they don’t end up with nothing.