The World Series is over (how ’bout them Red Sox?!?), and the long drought sets in. Sure, there is what’s called the Hot Stove League where aficionados can sit around and talk about games past and speculate on the future of their teams (the Nats have a new manager! Yay! Hope for the future!), and we can watch replays of Nats games all winter, but it’s not the same as live baseball. This dearth of action on the diamond will last until about the middle of February, when pitchers and catchers report. Still, that’s three and a half months away. It’s going to be a long, cold winter.
So, friends, stock up on some good reads, build a fire in the fireplace, and settle in. Baseball is about hope and expectation. True, it will break your heart, but there’s always next year. And, in the words of the poet Shelley, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
I have been a part of my church’s adult handbell ensemble, Evensong Bells, for about twenty years or so. I like playing bells–it’s a challenge, and people who hear us play seem to enjoy the experience. Generally we play for church services and bell festivals, although we have played for a wedding or two as well. Sometimes people ask us why we don’t smile when we play. Our answer is “Because it’s hard.” And it is, but it’s also fun.
Tomorrow evening, some of us in the group are going to play in a unique venue–Nationals Stadium in Washington. Handbell Musicians of America has organized 542 players into a massed ringing choir which will play the National Anthem before the Nats-Marlins game at 7:05. We gather at a church in Alexandria to rehearse for a final time at 1 PM (and believe me, we have been rehearsing. We’re playing this from memory.), take buses to the stadium, and line up on the warning track five deep and 300 feet across. The logistics of this event are mind-boggling, and we’re told that we will be the largest bell group to do this–in the world.
Major League Baseball does not televise the National Anthem before games except for the World Series, but we should be up on You Tube very shortly. If you listen to the game on WFAN-FM, 106.7, Charlie and Dave (the announcers), always feature the anthem and comment on it. This is such an unusual version of it, I’m sure they will have something to say. If you do hear it, please let me know what they thought of it. I actually prefer listening to the game and find these fellows to be knowledgeable and humorous. Whenever one of them spells the name of a player, the technician in the studio makes the sound of an old-fashioned teacher’s bell. I’ve learned to wait for it.
If you are at the game, I’m playing Eb4 and F4. Look for me among 541 of my closest bell-playing friends.
Believe it or not, cats can be taught to do tricks. They can even be taught to use the toilet. Doing so requires patience and skill, both of which I lack, so our cats are pretty much as they came out of the can. They do have two tricks: eating and sleeping. They do both very well. We seem to acquire cats which are strong minded and not about to do a trick for anyone. Nacho will play with a pencil and is an excellent eight-pound guard animal, staying with me and lying between me and anyone who would do me harm. So watch out! If you want a piece of me, you’ll have to deal with a piece of a fighting mad dilute tortie/Siamese mix.
My brother once had a cat that he wore on the top of his head like a hat. (Our cats don’t like to be picked up, much less worn as a fashion statement.) I was thinking about this when I was trying to remember if we had had any cats who would do tricks, and it put me in mind of the popularity of the Davy Crockett Disney TV series, with Fess Parker as DC and Buddy Ebsen as Georgie Russell, his sidekick. (I need to do a piece on sidekicks. There don’t seem to be many around any more, and I miss them. Batman and Robin, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Wild Bill Hickok and Jingles, the Cisco Kid and Pancho, Huck and Jim, Han and Chewie…you get the idea.) Anyhow, Fess Parker wore a coonskin cap on his head, which is pretty strange if you think about it, although if the one you owned got messed up, you’d just shoot another coon and turn it into a hat. Parker’s model didn’t have the head on it. I think John Wayne’s did when he played Davy in the movie The Alamo. Or maybe that was Daniel Boone. I forger who played that. Anyhow, every kid I knew would have killed for a coonskin cap, which is pretty weird when you consider that you’d be wearing a dead animal on your head. Granted, they didn’t have many sartorial choices on the frontier and couldn’t exactly trip on over to their local MLB store and buy a Nationals hat.
So, we do live in better times. I just wonder if Davy Crockett could train his cats.
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!