It's been called America's National Pastime. It's a game that turns grown men back into innocent children. At its core, I love the purity of the game. I enjoy watching and I enjoy even more playing it (in real life and video game form). In an era tainted and corrupted by steroids and such, it's easy to forget what a simply beautiful game baseball is
Nothing beats the smell of fresh grass on a summer afternoon
Swing batta batta!
I have some great memories of baseball. One involves a baseball tournament I played in way back during '94. The other involves the film FIELD OF DREAMS and my college freshman year
In April of '94 I was in the thick of the 5th grade, enjoying some of the best times of my life. Best friend, best teacher, two hottest looking girls in our class, oh yeah life was pretty damn good. The two 5th grade classes set up a baseball tournament one day. Teams were evenly spread out so there would be male and female. 8 teams in all, 8 games to be played, the top 4 would advance to the Playoffs
To call it an exciting time would be an understatement. I was a pretty competitive kid, and so looked very much forward to helping my team into one of the top four positions. And luck be my lady, one of the two hottest girls was on my squad. The first order of business was to name our team. We decided fairly quickly on THE BULLDOGS. Unoriginal, I know, but a proven classic
I remember lunch that very same day. My best friend, Nelson, was on another team. That was about the only thing that didn't go my way. Well, it wouldn't hurt if the other hot girl was on my team too, but hey, you can't get too greedy now, can ya? Anyway, Nelson was a big bone kid. His team was indecisive and still hadn't come up with a team name. I was sitting next to him in the cafeteria that afternoon when he rattled off "How about the Orioles?" He was a big fan of the Baltimore Orioles, y'see. Or, at least he liked the name anyway. His teammate, and resident class clown Joshua (yup, the same bloke I swindled on The Bet), said jokingly "Oreo's? Stop thinking about food, Nelly!" and every one at the table cracked up. Nelson took it in stride, we (as in the 5th grade classes) got along great, so there was never any ill intent. It was a bit like CHEERS to be honest, everyone literally knew everyone's name and a little (or a LOT) about one another
... That's why I almost feel bad for playing Josh for a fool... but hey, those were reckless times y'see!
The first game was set to be played next week. I remember hanging out with Nelson that weekend (the usual) and we talked excitedly about how we would both start out 1-0 (that being 1 win 0 losses, a little sports terminology for any of the unaware). We were probably playing SNES together, or off at the mall being carefree kids, or simply outside his garage. Spring was in the air, Major League Baseball was just starting, summer was right around the corner... you betcha -- it was a great time to be a ten-year-old kid enjoying the simple pleasures of life
The 1st game of the 'season' came and went. The Bulldogs won 8 runs to 5. Herman, my friend and teammate, was even more competitive than me and I never met anyone so POSSESSED to be number 1 more than he was
In contrast, Nelson's team lost their first game. Imagine the bragging rights I had that afternoon!
If you never played proper, full on baseball before -- it's such a great game to play. It teaches you a lot about life itself. You learn about fair play, how to win (and lose) gracefully, how to work together with your teammates, etc.
Some folks just don't take losing all too well...
The Bulldogs went on to set the school record for longest losing streak. We started out hot smelling like a rose, but it all went downhill from there
We dropped game 2. Ah no worries, we thought at the time. It was a close loss, we'll get 'er next time!
But then it happened. The ship was sinking fast and so was team morale...
Slaughtered in game 3
Bludgeoned in game 4
Annihilated in game 5
Crushed in game 6
And then... Game 7 happened....
That's when itREALLY got interesting...
FORESHADOW? FO SHO!
Recently, a minor league AA baseball manager went completely nuts. I think the SportsCenter guy put it best when he said "And then he goes absolutely mental and re-enacts PREDATOR"
Watch out for the rosin 'grenade' bag!
GAME 7 DRAMA
There I was, guarding the 3rd base line on a steamy hot Spring afternoon. As usual, we were down, but lo and behold, we were in the game. We had a shot. For the first time since game 2
It was in the later innings. We were only down by one run. However, they had the bases loaded and 2 outs. If we could just escape this inning unscathed, me and Herman would be batting the next half inning down only one. We could actually pull it off!
I pounded my fist into my glove, anticipating the play. The 3rd base runner, I can't remember who any more, said something to me, but it fell on deaf ears. Here we go...
The windup from the pitcher...
If I didn't know better, I'd think a gun went off. The ball was smacked into center field where Herman was playing. Like everyone else, including the baserunners, I stood there and watched with eyes and mouth wide open. Herman was streaking back as fast as his legs could take him... he had a chance to make the CATCH OF THE CENTURY. As Herman made a diving attempt for the baseball, I watched in horror as it sailed JUST PAST his outstretched glove. The runners were off immediately. I heard a sickening THUD
Herman landed in a class-A belly flop. Amazingly, he got up immediately. But even more amazing, was what took place next...
OH NO HE DIH-ENT!!!!!
As the runners rounded past me on 3rd base I saw something I'd never forget
Herman grabbed the baseball and stopped dead in his tracks. Jojo from left field screamed "THROW IT HOME THROW IT HOME!" The commotion caused the runners to actually STOP running to see what the hell was going on
Then, it happened
Instead of throwing the ball toward home plate, Herman turned around, let out an animalistic cry that reverberated through the hills, and threw the ball as far as he could into deeper center field. I remember tracking the ball high in the blue sky. A sky so blue that afternoon that it hurt my eyes just squinting at it. The play felt like it happened in slow motion. He stormed off in a rage and left everyone speechless. Not to mention the ball 500 feet away from all of us. It was one of those moments that spoke for itself... rather bluntly And a moment none of us would forget...
Once again, the Bulldogs lost. But this was more than a mere loss, this was a total meltdown. Made me glad there was only one game left to be "played," and I use that word loosely
THE FINAL GAME OF THE SEASON
We were a pathetic 1 and 6. The worst team in the tourney. We had to salvage the season. No one on my team had talked to Herman since game 7's ugly incident. Game 8 was about to begin...
In the dugout, Herman apologized to us. He said he simply lost his head in the heat of the moment. We understood. We also knew we were now playing for a little thing called PRIDE. And somehow, between the waning moments of game 7's meltdown to the dugout meeting prior to game 8, we came together as how a real team should
We played loose, cracked jokes in the dugout, and I recall Jojo starting the wave. We had a blast
And, believe it or not, the Bulldogs actually won the final game. We started and finished the season with a win. In-between? Lots of devastating losses, but it served as an invaluable lesson... how to lose gracefully and bounce back from adversity. Baseball taught us things you can't quite learn in the classroom. And for that reason alone, I have always loved the game
To this day, I can't remember which four teams advanced to the playoffs, or who won it all in the big game that the 6 eliminated teams congregated around to witness. But what I do remember is that the Bulldogs finished an unimpressive 2 and 6, but underneath that horrible record, lied a team that truly felt like winners in the end
June 2001. I'd just graduated from high school. Spent most of that summer working at Blockbuster Video with my good friend Eddie and the high school slut. Interesting times. (Yes, same Eddie from Jessie's Girl and for more on the slut see Memories of Renting)
One night I was closing up and made my usual last minute DVD run. I had 5 free rentals a week, and always maxed it out
Field of Dreams caught my eye. I probably even had a flashback to the 5th grade baseball tourney. I remember hearing some very good things about it, so why the hell not, yeah?
Long story short, I ended up loving the film to death. The music was off the charts, both touching and even, haunting. The cinematography was just gorgeous!
CH. 19 of the DVD if I'm not mistaken. The music played here is ACE!!
More than just a baseball movie, it's actually about life, 2nd chances and father-son relationships. There's more than a touch of the supernatural (in the PG friendly sort of way) and everyone in the film fit their roles like a glove. It's one of my favorite movies of all time, period. Years later, Christmas 2004, my girlfriend bought me the Special Collector's edition DVD when it came out. So yes, I'm quite the FIELD OF DREAMS fanatic
Dreams, redemption, a great score, a feel-good story, goosebumpy moments... it's got a bit of everything...
"GO THE DISTANCE"
2 months later, I began my freshman semester at University. I was excited to get away from the high school grind and begin my self-discovery [Ohhh LORD! -Ed.] Oh not THAT kind! [Whew -Ed.] Now that I discovered many many years ago! [..... -Ed.]
My last semester in high school I began to explore my presentational skills and passion. I took Oral Composition (see Tha Crossroads for more on Oral Comp) AND Theatre. I kept the ball rolling my very first semester at college when I took Beginning Acting. It was one of the best college courses I ever took. Like Oral Comp, ironically, it too had only 13 students and one very cool professor
During the semester we had to do a monologue. Naturally, I picked James Earl Jones' monologue from FIELD OF DREAMS
I'll never forget the adrenaline rushing through my body that morning. Goosebumps formed on my arms when I did "The ONE constant through ALL the years, Ray, has been BASEBALL" part
After I finished, Sam stood up and gave me a standing ovation. Sam was a hell of a character lemme tell you! At 43 years old, he was five years older than our professor. He was one of the best actors in the class. His dramatic style and tone really reminded me of Denzel Washington
I got an A on my monologue, and likewise in the class. Sam told me later that he thought James Earl Jones was in the building himself! That has always meant a lot to me
JAMES EARL JONES' FIELD OF DREAMS MONOLOGUE
I suppose one day if I'm ever around Iowa I'll drop by the actual Field of Dreams, which still stands. In fact, since 1989 there have been more than one million visitors from all over the world, including Scotland. Once, a 50-year-old strapping man kneeled over home plate at the actual site, cried his eyes out and made peace with his deceased father
Looking back, I truly value all the great memories baseball has given me. And it goes beyond the fundamentals of executing a proper bunt, or how to pull the ball, or how to roll over on the bat. Like other sports, it taught me a lot about life.... and enriched my life
Summer is now under way and all across America kids will be playing baseball much like me and my chums did some odd thirteen-plus years ago. I hope they take away from the game lessons that travel beyond baseball.... half as much as I have