Note: This is a substantial re-write of a post that I did toward the beginning of this site. At the time I had very few readers and of course it had very few views. I think sometimes there are times in life when you have to go back to things that are important. Revisiting the better times in the past is sometimes a way for me to get through the more difficult days of the present. My dad has been in End Stage Alzheimer’s Disease for some time now. He is down to 112 pounds and when I last saw him in May was only occasionally able to have any meaningful communication and I was blessed to get a few minutes on a couple of consecutive days where we had conversation s that bordered on better times. The funny thing they revolved around baseball for for dad and me was a point of connection through most of our lives. If we could talk about nothing else, there was always baseball. I have been kind of down about his condition lately as he for all intents and purposes hangs between life and death, not really the man that I knew, the man who taught me to love the game of baseball. My mom and I talked this week and she asked when I was coming out next. The thing is I don’t know. I just had to tell her that we would wait and see.
Me with Lefty Phillips of the California Angels in 1970
Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will
Baseball has always been a source of enjoyment for me. I’ve noted in numerous other posts that God speaks to me through baseball. For me there is something mystical about the game. It extends beyond the finite world in some respects and there is symmetry to the sport unlike any other. George Will’s quote at the beginning of this post is dead on. Not all holes or games are created equal.
My First Ball Field, Oak Harbor Washington
Though I had played Little League Ball in the 1960s and well as a lot of backyard or sandlot games, it was 1970-1971 when my dad began taking us to California Angels games while stationed in Long Beach California that the game really captured me. The seed of course had been planted long before games on a black and white TV, playing catch, teaching me to throw, field and run the bases. We even saw the Seattle Pilots in person while stationed in Washington State. While my dad thrived on all sports, baseball was the one that he gave me as a gift. He gave my brother golf, another spiritual game, which Zen masters love, but which is not to be compared with baseball because it is not in its purest form a team sport.
Oak Park Little League 1972 American League “Rams” I am at top left
Growing up with baseball was something that I cannot imagine have not done. It was part of life from as far back as I can remember and this was because dad made it so. It kind of reminds me of the beginning of the movie For the Love of the Game where home movies of a child playing ball with dad are shown during the opening credits and score. I can close my eyes and remember vivid details of ball fields and backyards where dad would play catch with me play pepper and fungo and teach me to pitch. He never did much with hitting. When I had him in a brief lucid moment when I visited in May I thanked him for teaching me to love the game, told him I still heard his voice telling me to keep my butt down on ground balls and that he did not teach me to hit. He simply said “you can’t teach someone to hit, it’s a gift, lots of people can’t hit.”
I wonder if my Dad felt this way at times?
Those days at Anaheim Stadium when it was called “the Big A” due to the scoreboard shaped like a large “A” with a halo ringing the top were magical. I met players, got signed balls and hats, and was even selected as a runner up in the “My Favorite Angel” contest. For that I met my favorite Angel, First Baseman Jim Spencer a Golden Glove Winner who later played for the White Sox and Yankees, and two tickets behind home plate. I met Spence at the game as well as an autograph signing at a local Von’s grocery store. When trying to look him up in 2003 I found that he had passed away on February 10th 2002 while I was deployed. He wasn’t very old, only 54 dying of a heart attack. Before his death he was lending his expertise to the Naval Academy baseball team. In 15 years in the majors in which he played in 1450 games and only made 55 errors, a .995 fielding percentage, one of the best in baseball. During the 1970’s he was considered one of the premier defensive First Basemen in the game. He played in the 1973 All-Star Game, won the Gold Glove in 1970 and 1977 and played on the Yankee’s 1978 World Series team. He was one of my favorite players growing up. I think that is why I like sitting behind the plate in my little world of Section 102, Row B, Seat 2 at Harbor Park so much now.
Jim Spencer’s 1979 Signed Yankee Card, I have one of these
When we moved to northern California we reconnected with the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. This was during the A’s dynasty years and we saw a number of games including an ALCS game against the Tigers. Seeing the greats like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Campy Campaneris and Vida Blue was awesome. However our first love was the Giants. We only occasionally got to Candlestick Park where they played in those days. Candlestick if you have ever been there is a miserable place to see a game for nothing else that it is colder than hell, if hell were cold. One game we did see was Ed Halicki’s no-hitter against the Mets in 1975.
Ed Halicki’s No-Hitter, Dad took me to this
While dad was deployed to Vietnam my mom would drop me off at Billy Herbert Field in Stockton California where we lived and let me see the Stockton Ports who were then the California League single A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. Those games were always fun. I remember talking to Orioles great Paul Blair when he visited a military base that I was serving and he told me how he remembered playing in Stockton as a minor leaguer.
My Childhood Haunt, Billy Hebert Field, Stockton CA, former home of the Stockton Ports
In high school and college due to other diversions I stopped playing baseball and did not have as much contact with it. However it never completely left me, I always longed to be either playing in or watching a game.
Other major sports do not hold me captive the way baseball does. I think there is the nearly spiritual dimension that the game has which makes it timeless. Other sports such as football, basketball, hockey and soccer are limited to rectangular playing surfaces of set dimensions determined by their leagues. With the exception of a few old hockey rinks there are no individuality to these venues, save perhaps for team or sponsor logos. Likewise all of the other sports play a set time clock. If a team gets way ahead early, it is likely that the game will be over. While it is possible that a game could go into “overtime” the overtime in these games has different rules than regulation time. “Sudden death” “Shootouts” and truncated times show that these games are not meant to go past regulation time. It is an aberration from what is considered “normal.” In these games a team with a big lead can simply sit on the ball and run out the clock. Earl Weaver put it well: “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”
Baseball is not like that. In order to win you have to throw the ball over the plate and give the other team a chance to come back. The nine innings could in theory go on for eternity, as they nearly do in W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, A story which is patently eschatological, though not in a pre-millennial dispensationalist manner. Foul lines in theory go on for eternity, only the arbitrary placement of the outfield wall and the physical limitation of hitters keep the game within earthly limits. I’m sure that outfields are a lot more spacious and have a wonderful playing surface in heaven.
Save for the late 1960s and early 1970s when fascists took over the design of stadiums in order to make them suitable to play football on, baseball parks have had their individuality. Outfield dimensions, type of grass, the kind of infield and warning track soil which is used, are all determined by the team. Some fields cater to hitters, others pitchers. And with the overthrow of the stadium fascists at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, the baseball park regained its dignity. Gone were the ugly, drab oval stadiums, fields covered in often shoddy artificial turf. The unsightly and even hideous venues such as Riverfront, Three Rivers, Veteran’s Stadium and others, even dare I say the Astrodome and Kingdome were demolished and made nice piles of rubble, replaced by beautiful ballparks each with its own unique character that reflect the beauty of the game.
Jeff Fiorentino Hits Three Run Homer at Harbor Park, my view from 102
This year for the first time in my life I bought season tickets for my local AAA team, the Norfolk Tides who are the AAA Affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. I also went Norfolk’s Harbor Park to see the Commonwealth Classic an exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals. Harbor Park was one of the first of the new generation of minor league parks and a wonderful place to see a game, or as I like to say “Worship at the Church of Baseball.” When Harbor Park was built the Tides were affiliated with the New York Mets. As such the outfield dimensions are nearly identical to the former Shea Stadium, making it a very large yard and pitchers playground. The outfield backs up to the East Fork of the Elizabeth River, shipyards and bridges dominate the view. There is not a bad seat in the house. Since coming back from Iraq the ballpark is one of the few places that I have been able to consistently go where I am at peace, not hyper-vigilant and anxiety free. In a way my season ticket has been both therapeutic and pretty essential to me getting a bit better in the past year. Last year when the minor league season ended it was difficult. I am not looking forward to 6 months without a ball game here.
Opening Day at Harbor Park: One of the few places of peace in dealing with my PTSD
With every home game the gift that my father gave me begins to unfolds again as I gaze in wonderment at the diamond. This year is different; my dad is in a nursing home in the end stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Last year he still knew enough of what was going on to talk about baseball, especially the San Francisco Giants and bad mouth the American League. Dad was always National League fan and he loathes the designated hitter. He used to call the American League the “minor league.” He told me stories about the greats of his childhood and he was an avid fan of Pete Rose, he loved his high intensity play and hustle, something that he passed on to me. I can still recall him yelling at me to “get your butt down,” “stay in front of the ball,” “hustle down the line any time you hit the ball” and “don’t be afraid to run over a catcher or go in hard to break up a double play.” Rose’s banishment from baseball for gambling hit him hard. I guess it was for him like the banishment of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and for me the agony of the Steroid Era which was a stain on game but now is now history. Unfortunately it is being used by self-righteous politicians a bureaucrats to make baseball and baseball players look bad so they can look good. At this point I say reinstate Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose and stop with the endless illegal leaks of documents and alleged positive tests of players whose names are being leaked out one or two at a time. I think my dad would say the same now, if only he could.
My Dad Carl and I, May 2009 Giants fans to the end
Dad gave me a gift, a gift called the game, the game of baseball. Sure, it’s only just a game. Right… Baseball is only a game in the sense of the Grand Canyon just being a hole in the ground and the Pacific Ocean a pond. I’m sure that the Deity Herself must agree.