Pitchers and catchers. Those words raise the temperature 20 degrees.
I hear the smack of baseballs into many leather gloves.
Smack-smack-smack. Like popcorn popping or bluefish jumping in the bay.
A good sound. A communal sound. Nowadays spring camps feel like medium-security prisons, but maybe you can catch the sound, through the barricades
Ball players limbering up. Bringing life back to us.
I’m not the only one. Out in California, Bill Wakefield heard the same smack, in his head, and instantly remembered 1964, the year he made the Mets, pitched very well, too. One year on a baseball card, and a zillion memories of the funky little camp in quaint St. Petersburg, still there, long renamed Huggins-Stengel Field. Very much the same.
Wakefield dashed off his stream-of-consciousness.
# # #
By Bill Wakefield:
Huggins-Stengel. History Channel.
On Google Earth.
Crescent Lake still looks the same as when the Babe hit 'em into the lake in right field.
The water tower stills looms over the batting cage at home plate.
Herb Norman's soup is hot for the break after morning workout.
The lawn still looks the same as when Dick Young would type down the right field line working on his Florida sun tan.
The trees down the left field line are still there where Hot Rod would take a snooze in the shade before Casey said OK guys take a lap around the field.
Catching a ride to the Colonial Inn with Lou Niss. Nervous, smoking, and "The damn bus had better be on time or Casey gets upset."
Larry Bearnarth telling me "You know it is a privilege to be here . Make sure you tell Lou Niss thanks for the nice dinner last night….A lot of guys just complain."
The porch where Barney Kremenko would adjust his hearing aid and ask,
“What did he say?”
Eddie Stanky coming up to me: "Bill, Pepper Martin died last night in Tulsa."
Jesse Owens. All class and pride. "Good morning, gentlemen," addressing zero world class runners in black Wilson baseball cleats -- at the first base line. It was a privilege to rub shoulders with the great man.
I remember it all clearly.
The fans on top of the field right-field line - and players -- no security. It was a different time.
"Hey Casey, how are you doing today?"
The old clubhouse is still there. "Bill. Casey wants to see you in his office." Wooooops!!! Shuffle off to Buffalo.
# # #
Let me annotate Wakefield’s memories:
Herb Norman was the salty old clubhouse man. .
Dick Young, the great baseball writer, would peel off his shirt and pound away at his large portable typewriter.
Hot Rod Kanehl was willing himself into his third major-league season. He adopted the Stanford kid in 1964.
Lou Niss was the road secretary, shuffled as if wearing slippers. Casey did a wicked imitation of The Niss Walk.
Larry Bearnarth, from St. John’s, hung out with Wakefield.
I don’t think Barney Kremenko of the Journal-American had a hearing aid. He just had trouble following Casey’s syntax.
Eddie Stanky, intense old second baseman, joined Mets front office, spring of 1965.
Jesse Owens, Olympic champion, gave running and life lessons in spring training.
Fans sat 10 feet behind Casey at Huggins-Stengel Field. Looie Kleppel, denizen of the Polo Grounds, kept up a rasping, knowing narrative.
Spring of 1965. After a fine rookie season, Wakefield was sent down. Noticed kids named Seaver, Ryan, Koosman, Gentry and McGraw in the pipeline. Went into business..Now roots for Stanford, his alma mater.
Loves to hear the smack of the ball in the glove.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.