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.
* * *
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.
3/5/2014 06:52:02 am
On the Jewish calendar baseball arrives in close proximity to the Passover holiday when we celebrate freedom, ambition, destiny. Hope springs eternal, annually, in the Spring.
3/5/2014 12:04:51 pm
Mendel, your comment brought back a funny memory and gave me an idea for suggestion to MLB. For many years my wife played in a tennis group which had one particularly funny Jewish member. Once she said, "Every year people say to me, 'Passover is late this year' or 'Passover is early this year.' It seems Passover is never when it 'should be!'"
3/5/2014 05:26:56 pm
Brian, great idea. I am certain you’ll find a fair share of matza and macaroons in Citi Field this year on April 20.
3/6/2014 12:51:45 am
Brian, having been pronounced an honorary landsman by my dear rabbi friend, may I note that "mikveh" is a ritual bath, and "mitzvah" is a commandment (more than a good deed). Your point is perfect -- seder first, then play ball. what about other sports events? My only time at the Masters was in the company of my Atlanta friend Abe, who brought his own matzoh. Sounds like a ritual to me. Best, GV
3/5/2014 09:58:01 am
Amen to that, brother,. GV
3/6/2014 03:12:19 am
In addition to coordinating opening day with the start of Passover, MLB should also model its season on the seder.
3/6/2014 01:09:34 pm
I didn't know a lot about this stuff until I looked it up. Pretty cool, Rebbe Alan. Fun stuff. The congregation of Let's Play It in October believers is larger than probably appreciated. I just read that the players union is investigating Wilpon for a payroll that makes him look like Yossele the Holy Miser's less kind brother. I think the Commissioner Rabbi of baseball would likely forbid him from collective bargaining on the reward for the afikomen.
3/6/2014 03:55:46 am
Also a kind of honorary Landsmen. (I was invited, and agreed, to be the faculty advisory the Alabama Chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi--I explained I was not Jewish, and the reply was, "You are from New York and that is the next best thing."
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.