Let’s get this out of the way up front: of course, like you, I love the game. I love the color of the grass, the crack of the bat, the outfielder drifting back and back. I love it all, always have, for as far back as I remember.
I love the memories of watching games as a little boy. The first time I saw a color television set was in my grandfather’s house in Queens Village, NY. Maybe I was five, maybe it was 1966. Grandpa had been the District 9 Assemblyman for 21 years, winning 11 consecutive elections before poor health forced him out. He ultimately rose to Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. They named Fred Preller Stadium after him (though State Senator Frank Padavan subsequently glommed onto it; the nine-field complex on Hillside Avenue in Bellerose is now known as PADAVAN-PRELLER FIELDS). Kids still play there today. I’m proud of that.
In a most happy coincidence, I learned today that the first League President of that organization was “2 Guys” patron saint, Daily News cartoonist, Bill Gallo. (Back in December, I wrote a tribute to Bill Gallo, here.) It’s nice to think of my grandfather pulling strings for Bill Gallo, the guy who helped turn me into a reader. Almost 50 years ago I walked into that house on 100th Avenue and saw Grandpa sitting in his chair, smoking a fat cigar — yes, in the living room — watching the ballgame on a massive color TV. It was the greenest grass I had ever seen. I remember that moment like yesterday.
Another memory is of lying on the sofa with my head on my mother’s lap as she despaired over Mets killers like Mike Shannon and Tony Perez. “Oh, he’s trouble,” she’d fret, running her worried fingers through my hair. My mother would rise to snap off the television after a heartbreaking double, storm into the kitchen, rattle the pans, and — click — turn on the radio two minutes later. Hopeful that maybe Tug had found his way out of that jam. That was the essence, I learned then, of being a fan. No matter what, you always turn that radio back on. Hope always returns, like a bubble rising up, swimming to the surface.
For hardcore fans, something different takes place during the winter months — a time of reflection and analysis in the absence of games — the cold realm of the northern mind.
By design, Mike and I began this blog at the end of the World Series or, in our view, the first day of the off-season. Intellectually, winter’s off-field drama appeals to me just as much as the games — the speculation, the contracts and trade rumors, the failed pursuits and the crunched, bloodless numbers. We wonder and debate: Oh how, oh how best to build a team? How to take this ragged bunch of fourth-place misfits, saddled to unfit ownership, and fashion a champion?
I find it endlessly fascinating. I am also a believer that God is in the details. So while a big free agent signing will get everybody’s attention — appropriately so — I’m studying up on the little things that might bump up a team 2-3 wins over the course of the season. A submariner in the pen, a pinch-hitter with good pop against LHP, the backup catcher who works well with young pitchers. It all demands scrutiny. And with that scrutiny, perhaps, comes harsh judgment, unkind thoughts about these young athletes who cling desperately to that most wonderful of childhood dreams: to someday be a player in the bigs. Maybe not a star, or even a starter, but to have a locker in the clubhouse, to ride the planes, stay in the hotels, and experience the life of a professional ballplayer. Who am I, just another fan with a wordpress account, to send bad voodoo in the direction of Justin Turner or Anthony Recker?
Because here’s the thing, friends and neighbors. Winter is over. For winter ends on the day spring training officially begins. And if winter is in the domain of the analytical mind, spring is a time of the heart, the purity of hope. The game literally and figuratively moves south, and heads straight for the heart.
Here’s the promise I’ve made to myself this spring training. I’m going to watch some ball, I’m going to enjoy the game, and I’m going to root, root, root for the home team. Yes, I’ll always have those critical thoughts. Nieuwenhuis can’t hit lefties, Duda can’t cover ground in the outfield; this is one’s not fast enough, this other one can’t find the plate, and on and on it goes. My hope is to mute those voices for these six weeks, or at least to temper them. These games don’t count. Not yet, not yet. I want to see the players run, and field, and hit. I want to see, period. Bask in the warmth and sunshine of the game, leave the northern mind behind.
For it is spring. And new beginnings. And this is only baseball, only a game, a simple thing. I’m going to watch, and cheer, and I’m going to believe.
Let’s go, Mets. Let’s go.
And lo, we are young again, and again see through innocent eyes. Play ball.