The 1972 Oak Park Little League Rams sponsored by Alex Spanos. I am to the left of the coach in the back row.
“Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.” Yogi Berra
Baseball is back at Harbor Park tomorrow as the Norfolk Tides take on the Charlotte Knights in their home opener. Weather could make this one a bit sporty. Rain and thunder during the day tapering off overnight. Hopefully my prayer vigil will succeed in persuading the Deity Herself to intervene. This has not always been the case, a few years back the opening day was in early April. The weather was 38 degrees with winds gusting to 45 mph coming out of center field. This was a tough game even by my hearty standards. I finally took my ever long suffering and nearly hypothermic wife home after the 7th inning stretch. Since then she has been wary of opening days here in Hampton Roads.
This season is cool because I have a season ticket for the first time. Section 102, Row B Seat 2. Right behind home plate, field level. It doesn’t get any better than this for me.
If you haven’t figured this out yet, baseball is a passion for me. I was out in town at a Starbucks following a meeting and I had my Tides hat and warm-up jacket. The barista asked if I worked for them. I simply replied “No, I’m a Priest, and a proud member of the Church of Baseball.” This elucidated a laugh from the charmingly polite girl who promptly gave me my non-fat mocha, sans whipped creme. I’m not sure if she understood the significance of what I said, but to quote George Will: “Baseball is Heaven’s gift to mortals.”
I’ve never played for a baseball team, or softball team that won it all. I guess in some ways I can empathize with fans of the Cubs and Giants, who wait every year to once again be disappointed as their team finds a way to salvage defeat from the jaws of victory. This years Tides, who are the AAA farm team of the Baltimore Orioles may be up to something good. They are 6 and 4 and seem to be playing pretty well. They have a 5 game win streak coming into the home opener. The Tides have 3 of the International League’s top ten hitters at this early point of the season. Their pitchers have a team 2.60 ERA which right now is second in the league. This is a far better start then the last few years and hopefully it bodes well for the team. When I was a kid, I used to watch the Stockton Ports of the California League when they were an Orioles farm team in the early 1970s.
The closest thing I have been to a championship baseball team was back in 1972. I was a member of the Stockton California, Oak Park Little League Rams, sponsored by non other than Alex Spanos, the current owner of the San Diego Chargers. We were probably his first team to almost win a championship. It seems fitting. We wore the same colors as the Chargers and lost in the championship series, losing by a run in the final game.
I think that Little League, if you can get parents who want to run their kids teams out of the picture, is great for developing virtues that help kids later in life. At least it did for me. We had a great coach. A guy named Phil Deweese. At least that’s how I think that he spelled it. He was a great coach for us and actually spent time teaching us how to do things like hit, pitch,field and run the bases. I did better at fielding, was a less than stellar hitter and usually played 2nd Base though occasionally I would play 3rd, Center Field or Catcher. Phil was great with us. He taught us to have fun while working ahrd at the basics. We did well, had a great season and came close to winning the championship. I was able to drive in a run and score a run in our one win of that series. My hitting in the playoff series was better by far than at any time in the season.He added to the things that my dad had been teaching me patiently for years in our back yard. Unfortunately dad was deployed to Vietnam and did not see us play.
I was kind of a utility player, something that in today’s game you seldom see. Utility players were guys that could be plugged in either in the field or as a pinch hitter. They were not the team all stars, but could be counted on to give a solid performance. That was me. I kind of continued this as an adult playing softball, but more often than not ended up at 2nd base, occasional 1st or 3rd base. I caught one year and was run over at home plate by a really big guy as I was going in the air to catch the throw from the outfield. I landed hard enough to break my throwing arm. At the time I was having my best year ever hitting. After cussing the guy out I was finally pulled when it became apparent that I could not throw the ball. What is amazing to me is that I endured the pain to play another inning and even hit, an infield single.
Anyway. This game is in my blood, God speaks to me through baseball. The ballpark it is one of the few places, besides my ICUs and a small Episcopal Church that I worship at that I can feel safe in public, praise be to PTSD. At least the Deity has helped me in this regard. Anyway, as I go back to my rounds about the medical center tonight I also maintain my prayer vigil for tomorrow’s weather. I can’t wait.