Sure sign of spring: Play ball!

Reds Indians Spring Baseball
Cleveland Indians first baseman Yonder Alonso (17) celebrates his home run against the Cincinnati Reds with Melvin Upton Jr. during the second inning of a spring training baseball game Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

It’s officially spring.

Not by the calendar or the weather, but by the only measure that really counts.

It’s time for baseball!

I heard the first spring training game of the year on the radio yesterday afternoon. When baseball starts, spring has begun and summer is not far away. The groundhog is forgotten and irrelevant by now.

Emotions drained far too often

We need perspective from all the rough events flooding our news feeds these days – Russian indictments from the 2016 election season, the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., potholes galore (it’s not the city’s fault the freeze-thaw cycle is bad this year), the unstable stock market, massive federal debt – and on and on.

Even many sports have become social platforms: taking a knee at NFL games, LeBron James and others speaking out on politics and other issues, the USA gymnastics/Michigan State/Larry Nassar fiasco, talk of paying athletes and/or families in elite college basketball programs …

Here in Cleveland, baseball averted such a situation by leaning hard on the Indians to eliminate the Chief Wahoo logo before the 2019 All-Star Game at Progressive Field. Perhaps that was a cop-out to political pressure, or perhaps it was a wise move to keep the focus where it belongs: on the playing field.

America’s Game

Baseball is America’s Pastime for a reason. It pioneered free agency (remember Curt Flood in 1970?), but for the most part baseball is celebrated for what happens between the white lines.

(The exception: steroids and the Hall of Fame. That’s for another day.)

Many people say baseball is too slow. Football and basketball are headed that way with endless “this play is under further review” situations. Baseball also has instituted replay reviews, but they are limited and very fast. I can eat dinner in the time it takes the NFL to review a wide receiver’s catch.

Ah, baseball.

Video (did not) kill the radio star

As I was driving for work yesterday afternoon, I had the van radio on the local AM station that carries the Indians broadcast. This points to another problem with society: We are too visual. We’re all about television, video games, and “if you didn’t take a photo, it didn’t happen.”

We’ve lost our imagination.

Baseball is best consumed with our ears. I still have a transistor radio set to the Indians’ station, and I’ll turn it on as the summer goes along. I enjoy Tom Hamilton, the Indians’ lead announcer since 1990:

It’s a long fly ball, a-wayyyyyyy back, gone!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jqOASqRXYs

Gives you goose bumps, doesn’t it?

Every baseball announcer has a calling card, a special phrase or moment he is known for. Growing up in Michigan, I was spoiled with Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey:

He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vGEcx4RSZU

Now when we visit our sons or my parents in Michigan, we’ll listen to Dan Dickerson and Jim Price:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0azRYW9I38

During my high school days in the Pittsburgh area, I listened to Milo Hamilton, who broadcast for seven teams over a 65-year career. He’s most well known for broadcasting for the Houston Astros:

Holy Toledo! What a finish!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KrdS0Jn7dk

Take me out to the ball game

I’ve attended Major League Baseball games over the years that provided great memories:

  • I saw Earl Wilson, a Detroit Tigers pitcher, hit a home run in old Cleveland Stadium in the late 1960s. The Indians beat the Tigers, 2-1, in that game.
  • I was in Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh the day Rennie Stennett, the Pirates’ second baseman, got his first major league hit in 1971. He had 1,239 hits over an 11-year career, mostly in Pittsburgh.
  • My oldest son and I attended a Detroit Tigers playoff game in 2006 when Kenny Rogers outdueled the great Randy Johnson, then with the hated New York Yankees. The atmosphere of that game was nothing short of electric – from the opening pitch through the final out. I’ve never experienced anything like that before or since.
  • For my birthday in 2014, my family treated me to a baseball game at Progressive Field in Cleveland against the Detroit Tigers – which just happened to be the day Omar Visquel, an outstanding shortstop and then (and now) a coach with the Tigers, was inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame.

The games we play

Perhaps another reason I enjoy baseball is because I played it. I was a Little Leaguer as a youngster – I couldn’t hit, but I played the outfield because I could catch the ball.

As an adult, I played slow-pitch softball for about 25 years. As my three sons grew up, they played too. That’s one of my favorite memories from my sons’ childhoods: playing on the same softball team with all three of them.

(They were, and still are, much better athletes than I ever was. But softball sure was fun.)

Baseball is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. Run the bases.

Even if you don’t get into all the analytics – which many baseball purists do – it’s a simple game, really. Difficult to play (try hitting a pitched baseball with a 32-inch bat if you haven’t done that in awhile), but a game that many Americans – women as well as men – have played, and still play as adults.

Some of us pseudo-athletes do better with softball, fast-pitch or slow-pitch, but the idea is still the same. Pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball.

Baseball season is here. I heard it on the radio. That makes it official.

And that puts all of life in the proper perspective.

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