I fell in love with the game in fifth grade when our teacher stopped class in the afternoon, so we could listen to the World Series broadcast. He told stories about the players that made them romantic in the heroic sense. The 1957 Series showcased the Milwaukee Braves against the New York Yankees. I was a Braves fan. I mean, look at that roster … Lew Burdette, Warren Spahn, Dell Crandall, Joe Adcock, Eddie Matthews, Red Schoendienst, Hank Aaron, and Bobby Thompson to name a few. Man, what a roster. Burdette won three games, including the seventh at Yankee Stadium, and won the Series MVP award.
The following December my grandmother gave me the world’s best Christmas gift: A transistor radio small enough to sneak under the bed covers. Walter O’Malley gave me a gift too, when he moved the Dodgers to LA for the 1958 season. Even as a young lad I knew the voice of the Dodgers was special. I listened to Vin Scully call some big moments on that radio; Koufax’s no hitters, the John Roseboro / Juan Marichal incident, Maury Wills’ 104th stolen base … I heard them and saw them all thanks to that radio and that voice.
Later, I would sit around a tape player with my pals and listen to Dodgers games when times weren’t so good. There was that voice again, telling us that the world was okay, it was normal despite what we were experiencing. My Dad was a Padres fan, but he taped every Dodgers game for me and put them in the mail each week. It could take two to four weeks for them to show up in my mailbox at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, but when they did, oh boy. The times we had, huddled around as if we were hearing it in real time. That was quite a gift from Dad. I’m sure he became a Dodgers fan that season, and just as sure he would never admit to it.
In the early eighties we moved to LA and I got to see my first game at Dodgers Stadium. There were many after that and yes, I did take my sons out of school to watch the Dodgers and Cardinals play the fifth game of the 1985 NL Championship. That was the game in which Ozzie Smith homered off Tom Niedenfuer in the ninth. I swore I would never again wear red.
Then in 1988 I watched a Series game from a hotel lobby in Silver Spring, MD, and saw my son kiss his girlfriend from a seat right behind the Dodgers dugout after a big play. They happened to be there in the crowd and the camera happened to catch them, and I happened to see them. Tell me that “just happened.”
In 1990 my wife and I were in the stands with another couple, watching as Fernando Valenzuela threw his no-hitter. Yes, I have been blessed to be a baseball fan.
In Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones favored one of the best baseball speeches I’ve ever heard with his wonderful baritone voice.
“People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game … it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”
Simpler times, rough times, good times, tough times. Baseball has seen us through them all. We will do good to remember that now, amid the tumult of today’s world. It is Spring Training, that time when young men play an ageless game on a field of green, and dream of what might be, what could be. There is a joy in that, a peace and a comfort. It takes one back to the basics of the game and life. Play it the right way, give it everything you’ve got, treat the game and your opponents with respect, and pray the ump calls it right.