Guest blogger Michael Noble returns with his take on America’s game.
Remember baseball, “The National Pastime” … ???
Of course you do! You were watching it earlier this week! Whassamatta, you?!? Are you really so forgetful you can’t even recall watching the awe and wonder of the post-season throughout October, the exciting World Series that just concluded earlier in the week? You don’t … !???!? I have a hard time believing that …
But … where was I?
Oh, yeah … Baseball: The National Pastime. (And don’t get me started saying baseball is no longer the country’s The National Pastime, that football and basketball have supplanted baseball’s reign. That’s an entirely different argument, one YOU WILL LOSE. Besides, I’m trying to talk about something of meaning and substance here… so back off and let me blather. yeesh All these interruptions.)
Baseball: The National Pastime. Where the glories and foibles of the game are publicly committed on field in front of thousands of fans (well, except during this particular abbreviated year, 2020, The Year Of The Covid) and celebrated and/or vilified to the Nth degree, each and every season come the spring and for the next 6 months.
Baseball: The National Pastime. Where you can go to any of 162 games during the season (again, except for this year) and kick back and relax with a hotdog and a Coke (or, preferably, a beer) and a bag full of peanuts and a tray stuffed with nachos dripping cheese sauce on your knees and not enough napkins to mop up your mess, all the while cheering and booing the plays of the game, letting them fade away the problems of the day if only for a few hours. Where sentimentality and wistfulness come flooding back to mind as you see a player make that double play or as that home run goes screaming into the left field bleachers.
Good gordness, Baseball is great. And it has been since its inception in the 1860s. And it still IS great, right on up to its current iteration, culminating in an unprecedented post-season yielding a bevy of outstanding contests.
My baseball memories – while not quite going back to the 19th Century – began in the 1970s with my father forcing me to try out for Little League. I distinctly recall gushing tears to seemingly no end about those tryouts. I simply did not want to play the game. But my father was steadfast and unmoving with regard to my situation. I was damned well going to play baseball, he told me. And I was going to like it. He was the father, I was the son. I didn’t really have a say in the matter.
I was a chunky hunk of goof, awkward as all get-out. But, as with most things, you gotta learn sometime.
Luckily, I had one saving grace: I had some power behind me in my swing. My first coach recognized that. He did what he could teaching me the fundamentals of baseball and, in between shining the bench with my butt, I was stuck in right field for a season where I would get in the least amount of trouble. That first year was barely tolerable. But I had to admit: By the end of my “rookie year” I was warming up to the sport somewhat.
When did it finally sink in? When did I finally get won over by baseball? During one particular, defining moment.
Toward the end of my initial season I shuffled up to the plate during one game. It was the bottom of the 9th inning, the score tied with two outs. It was gearing up to be another effort in futility, where I would most likely strike out. Again. And, if I did, the game would be over, ending in a tie after 5 innings. (Remember, it was Little League.) But my coach and my teammates were rooting me on, doing their best to psyche me up to keep the inning going somehow. At some point I told myself the plate appearance would be over soon enough and I could go home. So, I mentally pulled myself together, took a couple practice swings and walked up to the plate.
I don’t know what the count was seconds later but I do remember I was down to my last strike. And when it came it came at me impossibly fast. All I could do was close my eyes and swing my bat.
During that swing there was no sound, I heard nothing. There was no feeling in my hands. My eyes were jammed shut so tightly phosphenes pinpricked the blackness of my inner eyelids. All I could recall was the bat having wrapped around me, that swing completed.
And afterward, that’s when a flood of noise assaulted me, shocked me back to life and out of my void. My coach was screaming at me, the umpire behind me was telling me to get going. I had struck out, again …
… but …
No, I had not struck out. My coach was screaming at me with a smile a mile wide. The umpire was telling me to get going, to head out around the bases. That’s when I realized the bleachers behind my team were alive with clapping, cheering parents and kids.
Because I had just smashed a game-winning home run over the outfield fence. My first home run ever. I was in a daze as I trotted around the bases. But, as I rounded them, it dawned on me this home run thing was pretty cool. And as I stepped on home plate as the game winning run, I realized this baseball thing wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was pretty great.
That plate appearance, that home run, that feeling initiated and cemented my life-long love affair with baseball, something I continue to be adamant and vocal and passionate about to this very day.
Since that time and for 40 years I have been a Los Angeles Dodgers fan. A rabid, card-carrying “I bleed Dodger Blue!” aficionado come hell or high water, year in and year out, through the good times and the bad. (And there have definitely been a lot more good times with this storied ball club than bad.) And I continue to be a fan, despite the fact I moved to El Dorado County in the middle of California the better part of 10 years ago to a relatively small city known as “Hangtown” where there is a very opinionated contingent of devotees of the San Francisco Giants baseball team and their God-awful, clownish orange and black uniforms.
And this year, two thousand twenty? The Year Of The Covid with all its mask wearing and physical isolation and hurt feelings and nose thumbing at political correctness and nation-wide fire devastation and riots and political chicanery hasn’t harvested much in the way of anything to be proud of.
But it did offer up an outstanding baseball post-season, not to mention the first World Championship to the Los Angeles Dodgers ball club in 32 years.
And if the country ever needed a good cheering up after the year we’ve had, what better way than courtesy of its National Pastime?
Thanks, Michael! Michael is often forced to contribute to Nostalgia Zone under the threat of exposing numerous undesirable skeletons lurking in his closet he’d rather not have to explain. However, he would be more than happy to go a few rounds with you on why baseball continues to be our National Pastime.
Images used under Fair Use.