Spring Training Countdown

It’s the middle of February, Janice and Joe have a fire going in the den and they are watching the Sopranos. Mom loves the series and can’t wait to see what happens in the life of her favorite mobsters. Dad seems interested however, he looks at the photo above the couch of Shea Stadium and he asks Mom, “How many days till pitchers and catchers?” Well, without Google in those days, I am not really sure how she knew how many days – But she knew. Today I just ask Siri or google it.  At 8 Maple Street the TV really only had a few channels on at any given time; it was the weather, news or baseball. My parents and my entire family’s love for the sport has made me this baseball nut that I am today.

Baseball comes along every spring, and with baseball comes sunshine; two of my favorite things. Baseball signifies the end of the dreaded winter and the rebirth of my beloved garden. Today I am dreaming of the marathon of the long season. This marathon gives a man a chance to prove himself or redeem himself. I love baseball’s ups and downs- it’s my very favorite kind of soap opera.  We can find a story in almost anything, and it allows me to evaluate, speculate, and like a true friend, it’s there for me (almost) every day.

I attended North Shore High School in Glen Head where I was a part of a senior year experience called Long Island Studies. We were immersed in all things Long Island. We had to choose a project that we were passionate about, and my choice was the history of baseball on the Island. My friend Brett Clancy’s grandfather is Whitey Ford. Edward Ford, or as the Yankees called him, “Chairman of the Board,” was a pitcher for the Yankees for his entire career. He grew up in Queens and mastered the sport on the streets. Brett took me to her grandfather’s home with my teacher, Dr. Stark, and we sat for a day speaking to the beloved Yankee. In 1993, the Major League Baseball expansion added the Florida Marlins and the Colorado Rockies to Major League Baseball. While on my visit with Whitey, which was during Christmas time, the pitcher took a call from Mickey Mantle, of which I was fortunate enough to be sitting in on. Mantle was calling to see if Whitey wanted to get the expansion team Christmas ornaments for his Christmas tree. As he cracked open his beer, this Cy Young award winner leaned back in his chair chatting away with Mickey Mantle, I was in awe. This was history in front of me and I was honored to be there. Whitey spoke about signing for the Yankees for an amount of money that would only buy me a backyard patio set these days.  The first thing he did with the money, he told me, was he purchased an “ice box” for his Mother whom had to go out and get ice each day, and now she can have a real refrigerator. Soon after, he was able to get her all new kitchen equipment. He spoke in depth about his years of playing stickball on the street and his endless workouts running around the neighborhood.  He recounted stories of Joe D and Yogi and the antics they would get into on the road. He told me all about the 1974 induction into the Hall of Fame and when the Yankees retired the number 16. I was in my glory and at that moment my love for the game exploded.

Today, I get to enjoy the game through the eyes of a mom. I am watching my young son fall in love with the game, much like I did in the 1980s. I am the mom with the huge camera trying to capture every single moment of this time, as I never want to see it end! I am also the screaming mom. My vocal cords have a built-in microphone with fully charged batteries. To say that I am a tad vocal is the understatement of the season. People from miles away can hear me yelling, “Danny Boy!”, yelling at the umpires, the coaches, the concession stand workers, the grounds crew and occasionally Jesus Christ. Speaking of sounds….

Ever really listened to the sounds of baseball? When I arrive to the ball field, inevitably the boys will begin batting and pitching practice. Have you ever closed your eyes standing next to a batting cage?  Have you listened to that bat “crack?” You can hear a good hit from the sound of that contact with the ball. Ever sat next to the bullpen at a major league game and listened to the snap of the ball as it reaches the catcher’s mitt? Or how about a shortstop trying to keep the runner on second base? Can you hear him slap his glove? How do you know there is a man on first base? Donald is sometimes the first base coach, and I can hear him, even while chatting it up with other moms. I hear him talking to the runner leading off, saying, “You’re good, you’re good, you’re good, back back back back!” That is the sound of a man on first. Ever hear the sound of the pitcher looking back a runner? You hear his deep breath then you watch as the pitcher turns and wheels around to throw to first. Then there is that sound of the runner diving back into first base.

Have you ever experienced the smell of baseball? Can you smell the fresh cut grass as you make your way onto the field? The gloves are leather and bats are wooden. Well, at least in the major leagues they are. Chewing big, fat, sugary bubble gum is a favorite of the young boys. How about the chalk used to mark baselines and the batter’s box? I love the fresh air smell mixed with the pine tar that gives a batter a good grip on his bat. Can you smell the oil used to condition a young man’s new glove? My kids’ favorite are the food scents, smells from the concession stands, hotdogs, popcorn and hot pretzels. I think Danny Boy would say that baseball also smells like Gatorade and sunflower seeds, the local snack-of-choice.

 

To be at a baseball game is to be outside of the confines of time. In particular, I love that baseball has no time clock. You can’t just get a lead in the game and wait for time to run out on the other team. In order to win you have to get 27 outs one way or another.

“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the goddamn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.” – Earl Weaver

 

A baseball game is chicken soup for my soul, with its sights and smells and sounds. As they say in the movie, “Bull Durham,” “Baseball is a simple game: you throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And sometimes, it rains.”

How many days till pitchers and catchers?