I won't begin with the usual "hope all is well with you and the family," because I know how you're doing.
You're excited. You're totally psyched. You're reasonably optimistic.
Baseball season is about to begin!
As one die-hard Dodger fan to another [we likely rank in the top ten], I know you're counting the hours until that first pitch. Then it all begins anew: fastballs, double plays, suicide squeeze bunts; all that goes into what Tommy Lasorda calls "bleeding Dodger Blue."
Already I can hear Vince Scully's " . . . so pull up a chair and spend some time with us." You know something Mel? Its quite likely that next to my father, the one male voice I've heard the most in my life is Vinnie's. Remember his old sidekick Jerry Doggett? Remember that first season back in 1958?
My god, that was half a century ago!
Do you remember the opening day lineup for that first game against the Giants at old Seals Stadium?
Gino Cimoli cf
Pee Wee Reese ss
Duke Snider lf
Gil Hodges 1b
Charlie Neal 2b
Dick Gray 3b
Carl Furillo rf
Rube Walker c
Don Drysdale p
I'm sure you recall that the Dodgers lost that opener 8-0; that Jim Spencer hit that first homerun off of Drysdale; that Willie Mays went two-for-five with two rbi. And of course you remember that they came back the next day and destroyed the Giants 13-1 behind the masterful 5-hit performance of Johnny Podres. As I recall, Dick Gray hit the first L.A. Dodger homerun off the long-forgotten Ramon Monzant, who had a career record of 16-21.
The first game I attended with my Dad was on Sunday, July 13 versus the Cincinnati Redlegs [as they were called back then.] We had pretty good seats just behind that left field screen that Wally Moon would make famous with his "Moon Shots." I remember like it was yesterday; Frank Robinson [Frank Robinson!] was playing left that day, and my father told me that someday he would make the Hall of Fame. We won that day 3-0 behind the 3-hit, 10-strike out performance of Stan Williams. Furillo and Neal both homered. Heck, I even remember the umpires that day: Ken Burkhart, Dusty Boggess, Ed Sudol and Tom Gorman.
That first Dodger team, which went 71-83, had a bunch of relative unknowns named Koufax, Fairly, Larker, Lillis, Bilko, the Sherry brothers [all hail Fairfax High!], Pignatano and Howard. Oh how they scrapped; oh how they lost! But of course, the next season they became the first team to go from worst-to-first when they beat the Chicago White Sox four games to two in the World Series.
Those were the days!
You know Mel, back then we didn't care -- let alone know -- how much players made. About the only thing I knew on any personal level was that Don Drysdale had a "restaurant" not too far from our home. [Actually, it turned out to be a bar -- I was really upset to think that "Big-D" might be a drinker.] Complete games were the norm; there wasn't any official statistic called "saves;" most players had off-season jobs.
Today, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the sports and business sections of the newspaper. During the off-season, when finding articles on baseball is about as difficult as selling snow boots to the Saudis, all we read are stories about the tens -- even hundreds -- of millions the players are getting; about who's being accused of taking what they euphamistically call "performance inhancing drugs;" and about who's being arrested for DUI, assault or carrying a concealed weapon. It used to be that whenever the word "battery" was used in a baseball-related story it meant the pitcher-and-catcher, not something from the police blotter.
Fifteen seasons ago, I attended the Opening Day luncheon for the Florida Marlins; they had asked me to give the invocation. I got to sit at a table with then-owner Wayne Huizenga, then-manager Rene Lachemann and broadcasters Joe Angel and Dave O'brien. After lunch [amazingly, Mr. Huizenga provided me with kosher food!], I got to go around the room and shake hands and chat with all the players . . .Benito Santiago, Orestes Destrade, Jeff Conine, Gary Sheffield and Walter Weiss. When I got to Charlie Hough, we chatted a bit about his days with the Dodgers, and then I blurted out, "Charlie, you've just got to continue pitching for as long as you can!"
"Any particular reason," the knuckle-baller asked.
"Well yeah," I said sheepishly. "You see, once you retire, there won't be anyone older than me playing major league baseball." Eyeing my gray hair and white beard, he said, "Thanks a heap rabbi! You make me feel soooo young." We both cracked up.
And yet, beneath the shared laughter, there was a bit of serious truth; the fact that "America's Pastime" was passing me by. Heck, back in 1958, the "youngsters" were born in the late 1930s; today those same guys are in their late-60s, early-70s. Think of it: Duke Snider is 82; Sandy is past 70! Today's rosters are filled with players who are younger than my favorite tie. Where oh where has the time gone?
And yet Mel, whenever Opening Day is upon us, the old juices start to flow, the little kid in both of us begins to reawaken. I know my mom, [whose first baseball hero was Cubs Catcher-Manager Gabby Hartnett] is beginning to remember her old days sneaking into Wrigley Field wearing her older sister's dresses so she could get in on "Ladies Day." April makes kids of us all.
So, let's forget about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and the whole steroid mess; let's not pay attention to who's making how much. Instead, let's get back to what makes America's Pastime so wonderful: balls and strikes, towering homeruns. Gravity-defying curves and the seventh inning stretch.
It's time to be boys again.
With all good wishes and the hope of seeing you at Dodger Stadium in late October,
©2008 Kurt F.Stone