So many changes in baseball. Spring training mostly has the charm of a moderate-security prison. Get your autograph through a chain-link fence.
But here, courtesy of Ed Martin, is funky old McKechnie Field in Bradenton, just as I remember it from 1980.
The left-field corner. I touched on this a few weeks ago when I described how I wandered into the Pirates’ clubhouse to visit my friend Bill Robinson while the Royals took practice. When I came back on the field, I spotted a kid playing pepper with the Royals in the left-field corner. Good grief, that was our son, David, then 10.
He had his glove on (the one with Jim Rice’s autograph from a chance meeting in Boston) and was scooping the ball off the ground in the time-honored ritual of baseball, when players enjoyed the fundamentals of their business. This must have gone on for 15 minutes before the Royals left the field, and David hopped back into the stands.
To make sure my memory is correct, the other day I asked David to resurrect the event. This is what he wrote:
“Not much to it ....Some other kid and I were in the stands long before the game, picking up all the foul balls. We were standing by the rail when the Royals pitchers came out and one of them asked us if we wanted to hop the fence. I THINK it was the one that died young, whose name I can't remember.”
Dan Quisenberry? He had been a rookie the year before, was a great guy, gregarious and smart, became a good friend of Roger Angell, and was mentioned in Angell’s beautiful riff recently on the passing of time. Quisenberry died at 45 in 1998, of a brain tumor.
Whether it was Quisenberry or not -- and it sounds like something he would do, give a thrill to a couple of kids in the stands -- the gesture created a legend in our household: a boy with hair down to his shoulders, playing pepper on a spring-training field in a more informal time.
"Think about it,” David concluded the other day. “Not only would that never happen these days, but do ballplayers even play pepper?”
They don’t even take infield practice anymore. But fans still carry their gloves to games and try to get close to the players in retro places like funky old McKechnie Field.
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PS: David still loves the game. In case you missed it, here is his essay in last Sunday’s New York Times:
PPS: The photograph of Andrew McCutchen is by Ed Martin, formerly the president of the great Abilities, Inc., in Albertson, L.I., and previously the assistant secretary of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Carter Administration. We have very classy volunteer photographers.
"....the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)
"The day after my 80th birthday, which overflowed with good wishes, surprises and Covid-safe celebrations, I awoke feeling fulfilled and thinking that whatever happens going forward, I’m OK with it. My life has been rewarding, my bucket list is empty, my family is thriving, and if everything ends tomorrow, so be it.
"Not that I expect to do anything to hasten my demise. I will continue to exercise regularly, eat healthfully and strive to minimize stress. But I’m also now taking stock of the many common hallmarks of aging and deciding what I need to reconsider."
--Jane E. Brody, my pal in the NYT newsroom, oh, a few years back, in the Personal Health column, Sept. 13, 2021.