I have been a baseball fan ever since I can remember. Now, I know that a lot people think baseball is about as fascinating as watching paint dry, but I find the complexity and nuances of the game intriguing. The beauty and grace of a double play, the power and excitement of a home run, the control and finesse of a good pitcher, the strategies and tactics of managers are all parts of the baseball. There’s a lot of history to the game as well, and much of it parallels the social and cultural development of this country as Ken Burns showed so well in his nine-part series on the subject.
Being a baseball fan in this area meant suffering with the Washington Senators who decamped not once but twice, to Minneapolis and Texas before we were left without a team for decades. The Senators were lovable but they weren’t very good even with sluggers like Frank Howard and Harmon Killebrew and Cuban pitchers like Camilo Pasquel and Pete Ramos. I think Fidel Castro even tried out for a Senators farm team in the ‘50’s. Too bad he didn’t make it. Still, I have fond memories of lying in bed listening to games on an AM radio with static from distant thunderstorms crackling in the background. I saw one game in person at the old Griffith Stadium, an oddly-shaped little ballpark wedged in among the maze of streets near Howard University. The Senators lost that night, as they did the two games I saw at RFK Stadium.
Players then were not the highly paid superstars they are now. Most of them worked other jobs during the offseason. They were accessible, moving among us like mere mortals. When my minor league team won our division (with little help from me), our coaches treated us to a banquet. The guest was Jim Lemon of the Senators who talked to us and signed autographs. I can’t imagine many of today’s players spending time with a so-so Little League team. And now, of course, even a .200 hitter can command a salary in the millions.
Since I loved the game so much, I had every intention of becoming a major league player. Unfortunately, I had neither the coordination nor the talent to make it beyond apex of my career as a twelve-year-old in the Little League minors. I was tall for my age (six feet) but weighed about a hundred pounds. I also had a basic problem of being afraid of the ball. This made perfect sense to me since a batted or thrown ball really hurt when it hit me. Trying to snag hard-hit balls while dancing out of the way did not make me a great shortstop and I turned to other matters, mostly books. I had never heard of anyone being hurt by a thrown book, although I have had several fall on me, but they don’t hurt like a baseball.
It has been a delight to have the Nationals come to town and a double delight last year when they made the playoffs. They were eliminated in a heartbreaking fashion, but as someone once said, “Baseball will break your heart.” But it also gladdens and uplifts the heart and I for one can’t wait for the season to start. Go, Nats!