Before the explosive growth in the popularity of football and the terrible but quite possibly real consequences of CTE, we all had something else. Something calmer. Something more thoughtful and far less violent. We had baseball. A testimonial to teamwork and fair play. A monument to all that was right and good about America, where any kid who worked hard and stayed out of trouble could rise to the top. Make it into the bigs. Even a farm kid from out in the sticks. Baseball and not physically and possibly mentally debilitating football, was our national passtime. And it’s still out there. Waiting to welcome you back.
I got into rooting for the Orioles back in the early 80’s, while working at WMAR-TV in Baltimore. I was initiated into the O’s family by “Wild Bill” Hagy himself, who looked at my pinstripe suit and said, you look pretty good in those pinstripes, but you’ll look a lot better wearing this,” as he placed an orange and black Orioles cap on my head. In retrospect, it was a proud moment for me, a moment of baseball acceptance like none before, as I became a “Weaver believer,” covering the 79 series with Pittsburgh.
Being on tv, even as a humble news reporter, has it perks.
I remained a fan of the O’s for the next three years before a job offer called me away to KABC-TV in Los Angeles, which meant swearing an allegiance to Dodger blue. Thing is, I grew up with the Brooklyn Dodgers and never really got over it when they left. So there I was, in LA with the Dodgers and Tommy Lasorda and all, but somewhere in a dark corner of my mind, the Dodgers still belong in Brooklyn. It’s something I can’t shake. It’s as though the Angels should have been enough for LA, but the Dodgers chased them out of town. Chased them down to Anaheim, where they continue to try and sort out their identity crisis. What else can you call it, when a team has Los Angeles in its name but plays out of a ballpark located in Anaheim, down in Orange County? How can they possibly be the “Los Angeles Angels?” The only thing that might possibly be worse would be the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” I mulled this over for some time back when they changed their name from “California,” which sort of worked, to “Los Angeles,” which doesn’t really work at all. It kind of makes local identity meaningless. Isn’t identifying with a team a key to enjoying the game?
All this moving around and name changing was too much for a kid from Minnesota, who remembers no professional baseball at all before the Twins, when nearly everybody from the land of 10,000 lakes (actually it’s more than 11,000 but Minnesotans are way too humble to brag about it) was pulling for the Milwaukee Braves before they moved to Atlanta.
And so, after leaving Maryland for the coast, baseball lost me. Or I lost baseball. For more than 30 years. Even with Chavez Ravine and the Big A right there. I had little or no interest. Steve Garvey? Steve who? I had seen baseball. It was Brooks Robinson and the Orioles, and they were on the other side of the world.
And then I came back. And the O’s are still here. And baseball – and this is why I decided to write this rambling reminiscence – baseball, is better than ever.
Watching Manny Machado bare-hand a grounder while on the run and rocket it over to first for an out and then come back to hit a grand-slam homer, or waiting for Buck Showalter to go into a full-blown Earl Weaver impersonation and start kicking dirt on the ump’s shoes before being ejected (I know he won’t, but I keep hoping), it’s all still there. And the play, the science of baseball, for me anyway, is better than ever. These guys are amazing. And so is the game. It always has been. It’s what America is about. Or what it was about before we lost our way. Achievement through fair play, hard work and being part of a team, all pulling together to be winners. A monument to all that is right and good about America. Baseball, is American exceptionalism personified. Most of the politicians now running for national office would be ejected in the top-half of the first.
“O say can you see?” “O” yes I can Wild Bill, and it’s good to be back. Francis Scott Key would have loved the Orioles and Camden Yards, one of the last baseball venues that refuses to sell out to the highest bidder. He would have had a Buck Showalter garden gnome hidden out in the backyard. A silent overseer counting balls and strikes while hiding out in a big patch of black-eyed susans.