Baseball for Everyone!


Feel that faint summer breeze? That’s baseball. And you don’t even have to like the game to feel that breeze. Baseball is back.

Chester the Peanut Guy singing “Cheaper on the outside. Get ‘um here now” is standing at the corner of Clark and Waveland in Chicago like the center of a compass that spans this whole wavering American land from the sandlot scratch game popping up on the tip of Maine to Willie McCovey Cove—baseball on the water even—in the sparkling San Francisco breeze.

Baseball is back. And it sweeps up every major, minor, playground city back alley smack of the ball that arcs screaming across the summer sky. Baseball is back and anyone can play.

It slows you down. Like a long ago remembered summer evening as the sun streaked sky held only promises of tomorrow. And someone started telling a story.

It reminds you where you came from. “Chester,” I say to the peanut guy. “What kind of year we gonna have?”

“We’ll find out come August,” he says with a shrug.

It gives you an order to your life. Everything is counted. Everything.

“Why, I might be mistaken,” says the radio color announcer, “but I believe that is sixteen times the pitcher has scratched his nose!” Last time we had that many scratches was a 1952 game in the Polo Grounds when. . .”

Baseball is back. And so is your history.

There were only about 5,000 fans in the stadium. Someday, there will be a million who claim they were here. But we saw it. We saw Kerry Wood mow down the mighty Houston Astros. A pitching performance of a lifetime. Baseball is back.

And the connections to the rest of the world somehow seem fresher. Renewed.

You’re sitting in the upper deck. Scanning the rooftops that circle Wrigley Field in Chicago. And you see something you’ve never seen before.

“Larry,” you say to your pal. “There are guys with guns on the rooftops!”

And you hear the crowd rumble, look over up behind home plate where the announcers and the press sit, and you see the silver grey hair. The wave. You can see the smile. “Hey that’s President Clinton!”

And just then. Just at that very second. Sammy Sosa smacks a home run. The white ball soaring up into the blue summer sky, tracing a shimmering arc of hope over the fence bouncing on to Waveland Avenue rolling towards the old red brick firehouse, while the scampering hordes of generations of children chase that little white ball,

Baseball is back.

Bringing all the baggage that has plagued the game since before the very first town father of Cooperstown New York said out loud, “Hey here’s an idea. Let’s pretend the game started here. We’ll build a museum. People will shell out cash by the bucketful. We will make a bundle!” The charlatan and the assorted devils of greed have always been there. Watching from the arid deserts of sin, ready to pounce. The masters of using other people’s money to make more for themselves. The cash fueled obstacles that keep more and more people every year of even having the dream that someday they’d walk inside a major league park. Those cash fueled Temples of exclusion screaming to the kid whose Dad works two jobs so they’ve never really had that game of catch, screaming to that kid, “Child, you don’t belong here.” All of that is clear and true as the summer sun.

Yet through all that, the little girl walks around back of her building tossing a ball up in the air and catching it. Tossing it higher and higher. And then one day her big brother says to her, “Hey our right fielder has a doctors appointment. Why don’t you come down to the park with us?”

And her little heart sings.

The real giants of the game, people like Bill Veeck, sitting around those endless heavenly summer fields of fun telling stories, they got their eyes on that little girl. Looking after her. And you hear the laughter and the singing of all the voices of the game and despite all baseball’s baggage, somewhere there is a minor league park that a kid of 8 or 88 has just walked into and the first sight of the green fields of summer make that kids eyes go wide in complete and total amazement.

Baseball is back. And the real giants of the game, now joined by Ron Santo. Your own hero. Gone now. You try and stretch your mind to imagine a season of the game without him. Because you’ve never known a season like that.

So you close your eyes. And you can see him. Still watching the game. His seats just a little bit further away then before. They start the interview. “Ronnie, what kind of year do you think we’re gonna have?”

He answers, “Well, Pat. I think our prospects look real good this year. If we could get one more pitcher. Maybe a left hander. Bring in a big stick. Get some speed. I think we got a shot.”

The man is in heaven. And he’s predicting a Cubs Championship. Just like he’s always done! Doesn’t he know what will happen???

Then you realize that perhaps he didn’t really leave. Oh perhaps he was quiet for the winter. Played some golf in Arizona. But the start of the season brought him back.

The start of the season brings everything back.

Chicago’s Bonnie Hunt once said that “Wrigley Field is the most romantic place on earth.”

When did she say that? Was around the time your wife started quoting baseball stats to you? When she started talking strategy? When, as your jaw hit the floor, she whipped off an explanation of the infield fly rule? Is that when?

Chester the Peanut guy stands in front of Bernie’s bar. The old men and women smile at all the memories, the young folks search, their eyes playing it cool, keeping all that wonder in check and the children catch that summer breeze first.

“Get your peanuts here!” Chester sings.

And the warm enveloping summer winds of baseball swoop in like the streaming crowds walking down Waveland Avenue, including all who even thought about running it out between home plate and first base, all who ever tossed a ball in the air, listened to a late night story from an Uncle or a Grandpa or a Grandma. Including all who ever yearned with all their heart for a hero, for time to slow down, for the green fields of summer to come alive again.

Baseball is back.

Like a trip to the promised land.

2 Responses to “Baseball for Everyone!”

  1. Paul Haider Says:

    I am still recovering from the disappointment of last year! Well, at least we don’t have to worry about Sour Lou his frustration as manager, and I’m pretty sure that Milton Bradley will never return either. Am I the only one who thinks it is prophetic and appropriate for Opening Day to be on April Fools’ Day? There will be many fools in Wrigley Field tomorrow, but I won’t be one of them. I will not attend a Cubs game in 2011 until the team is at least ten games above .500…or if the tickets are free.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    Roger,

    Baseball is back indeed. While I enjoy watching MLB games, nothing beats high school or college games. My wife and I have made a few trips to St. Louis recently to watch my son play baseball – 700+ miles to watch a few games seems like nothing. Signs of spring are everywhere, birds singing, grass turning greener, flowers started to break out of the soil but baseball being played is the true sign of spring. At the start of the baseball season everyone is full of hope and anticipation – the key is to keep that hope alive throughout the season no matter how it eventually turns out. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the last 10 years there has been a decline in the number of boys 7 to 17 playing baseball and other sports like soccer and football have increased. I hope that trend changes so more can experience playing baseball and find out what the game is really about.

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