October 18, 2017

The Long Dark Night Is Over….

greenwrig.jpegBaseball fans: what are some of your thoughts and feelings as the new season begins? Best memories? Ironies? Tragedies?

Tomorrow at 1:05 EST, the Cincinnati Reds will take the field against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Florida.

The long, dark winter of the soul will be over here in the Spencer household.

My life runs on three calendars. The first is the calendar of the ministry where I work, a school calendar full of breaks and beginnings, graduations and finals. I enjoy the academic calendar and the rhythm it provides for my life. If I had to give it up, I’d be sorry for all those lost opportunities to enjoy grace and sabbath.

The second calendar is the Christian year. If you read this site you know how I feel about that. My faith journey is formed around the time-keeping of the church’s way of marking time. No single thing has been more helpful to my own growth as a disciple and worship leader. I always know where I am with the people of God, and it’s always relevant, despite the fact that Baptists don’t understand it. (I’m kidding.)

The third calendar is the informal, but thoroughly religious and essential calendar of the baseball universe.

Baseball is not really as much a sport to me as it is an alternate universe where I am welcome to step out of whatever role I’m playing or responsibilities I have and discover something deep, true and innocent. Oh I know. That’s ridiculous, especially with Roger Clemens and whatever else is going on. Well, the amazing thing is that no matter how the individuals on or off the field wound it, somewhere – somewhere- it springs up again, fresh, new and reborn.

And I am reborn along with it. The game of boys and men, that allows us all to change places. The game of symmetry and predictability. The game that prefers to be called a “pass time.”

It begins in February and it stays with me until October. The four months of the “off season” are quite difficult for me. My wife is always glad when baseball returns as she gets a saner, happier, more grounded person to live with.

I’ll end most everyday with the 9th inning of a game, and I’ll start most every weekday with some baseball talk with my friend Joe, a Mets fan stuck far from Shea and even farther from cable. I at least have my team on Fox Sports Net.

Baseball is my “other place.” My happy, safe, sane place. Baseball is like a colony of heaven for me, where for the price of a ticket, I can put my toes in the river of eternal pleasures and forget about all the things I have to do tomorrow and the rest of my life.

My love for baseball isn’t because of being a fan of a team. I follow the Reds until it gets impossible, then usually cheer for the Red Sox until the playoffs, where I have to work out my loyalties by a complex and secret formula.

No, I love the game. It’s history. It’s quirks. The ballparks. The local ball diamonds. High school teams. Minor league ball. Ball park food. Baseball talk on the radio. Marty and Joe (God rest his soul) on the radio. Game Day Audio is the greatest invention since Bourbon Balls.

I love the idea of a night game on a perfect spring evening, good seats high above first base in a classic park, a velvet sunset over some river painting a lazy, magical scene to keep for year to come. I love the memories of games when I was a kid, games with my dad, games with my kids. I love the anticipation of games to come.

I love the caps. And the names. I love the personalities, the cliche’s and the humor. I love great baseball writing and any baseball movie. Almost.

I love seeing dads with their young children at the park. I love the weird characters that inhabit ballparks. I love the loyalty to cursed teams and the philosophical attitudes that allow us all to watch a team in August, 25 games out and we still love what’s happening on the field.

It’s the background universe of my world, and it welcomes me again, starting tomorrow. The long dark night is over, and even though UK played in the snow today (and won), spring is here until October.

Comments

  1. Wow! It is that time. Here in Texas we have the Rangers and very nice ballpark. But imo, the minor league team in Frisco is better entertainment than the major league team in Arlington.

    I long for those days when as a youngster in E. Tennessee I would lay in my bed at night with my transistor radio tuned to a station in Cinn., Oh and I would listen to Waite Hoyt broadcast the Reds’ games – Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, et. al. Now THOSE were the good old days of baseball for me – the dreams were still alive.

    Come to think of it, they still are. When I watch my little grandsons step up to the plate, summer is on again!

  2. Yes, Its time for the boys of summer….
    We indeed will miss our hometown man Joe Nuxhall,
    he did a lot of good around here: a man of character.
    Reds have work to do, new pitchers, new skipper…
    we’ll see…

  3. The tragedies are obvious. The Rocket, Bonds and others like them. Great talent forever tainted.

    My greatest memory was seeing Dale Murphy hit a walk off grand slam in 1986 (I think) to give the Braves a 8 to 7 victory over the Phillies at the old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium (now known as the parking lot).

    My pick for 2008 is for the Cleveland Indians to win it all. But I’m not very good at picking the results of sports.

  4. Michael,

    I hate to blaspheme on your very own turf, but I think baseball is the most boring sport ever invented.

    Who won the world series last season? I seriously don’t know.

    Now college football!!! There a sport to write home about.

    Scott

  5. When I was thirteen years old I pitched in a 7 inning game. Out of 21 outs, I struck out 19.

    I gave up 1 hit (a home run) and lost the game 1-0.

    At the start of every baseball season, I am reminded of that game. Just a little league game…but I can’t forget about it.

    – Steve

  6. I shouldn’t have complained about my little league loss after pitching the best game I’d ever pitched.

    I spoke with my next door neighbor (Joe Moeller) who pitched for the LA Dodgers fom 1964 through 1971…except for 1965. I asked him what happened in 1965? He said he’d pitched 27 stright innings of shut out ball that Spring (the best Spring training he’d ever had) and didn’t make the team.

    I said, “how in the world could you have not made the team?”

    He said, “Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen, Singer, Perranoski,and Brewer. That’s how.”

    I don’t feel so bad now.

    – Steve

    PS – Joe is now (for several years) an Advance Scout for the FL Marlins and gets paid to go to the game,have a hot dog and a beer, and take a few notes.

    Some guys really have it rough.

  7. Kurt McInnis says:

    The boring-ness of baseball is an American myth perpetuated by an ADHD culture. Baseball just takes a little commitment and perspective.

    Baseball is poetry (or it used to be), while most other sports are local-newspaper prose.

    And I don’t even know who won the World Series.

  8. Have you read “Playing with the Enemy”? It’s a book about Gene Moore, from Sesser, IL, who played with the U.S. Navy during World War II, and ended up befriending German POW’s. He also had a tragically brief nod with greatness here at home with the Yankees and the Pirates. I met the author, Gene Moore, who came to speak here. His father grew up just 25 miles up the road. I have a signed copy of the book, and it’s being made into a movie to be released this Spring. I’m rather a critical reader, and I found many flaws with the actual writing in the book, but the story was wonderful, and I’m looking forward to the film. I think you would like it too.

    C. Hays

  9. Oh no, the long dark night has just begun. However, as a former baseball fan I can answer a few of your questions.

    My thoughts and feelings as a new season begins – I’m trying to find a venue to watch Arena Football on TV and am hoping that the new All American football league catches on and gets some TV time so I can watch some games. I’ll be eagerly following the Gators spring practice online. Also, no real reason to read SI or ESPN for the next few months.

    Best memory – I did like baseball when I was a kid and was a Reds fan – I followed the Big Red machine and Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion and Caesar Geronimo were my heroes (interestingly, I never cared much for Pete Rose even back then). I visited some relatives in Hebron, KY one summer and they took me to a couple of Reds games and I loved it!

    I lost interest in baseball when Sparky left the Reds and when those guys retired, and especially when free agency started it’s path of destruction on this once great game.

    BTW – for all of my bluster about baseball vs. football, I don’t really watch the NFL anymore for most of the same reasons I don’t like MLB. The only NFL games I watched this year were the two NE-NY games – both times just to see if New England would make history.

    Ironies? Don’t know

    Tragedies – it’s the same with all pro sports – it’s not a game anymore. Austin Murphy from SI calls the NFL the “No-Fun-League” and I think it’s that way for MLB and the NBA. Back in the day a fan could have a great deal of loyalty to a team because they would have basically the same roster year after year so even though you didn’t personally know the coaches and players you felt like you had a relationship with them and were vested in them. The Reds weren’t this abstract entity, they were Sparky and Bench and Perez – free agency has destroyed that.

    My main love is for college football, but this is even infecting college football now – it’s becoming less and less of a game. I’m thinking of adopting one of the local D3 schools around here and just following them – D3 may not be as athletic as D1 but it’s still a game and still fun.

    Rant over – sorry!

  10. As a long-time Detroit Tigers fan, I’m just about to come out of my skin! I live in Harrisburg, PA so thank you Lord for Gameday Audio.

    I already have tickets to the third game of the Red Sox home opener (in which the Tigers will be completing their sweep of the reigning Champs). Planning on seeing the Tigers also in New York, Baltimore and Detroit.

    Stepping into the ballpark and seeing that field is a magical experience for me!

    Really appreciate your blog Michael.

  11. Wondering if I could get your thoughts on the best baseball movie of all-time…The Natural? Field of Dreams? Bad News Bears? I think I have to go with Roy Hobbs.

  12. BTW, Brad, I can’t stand the Tigers right now. As a Marlins fan, I can’t believe they practically stole Cabrera and Willis from us this year.

  13. I enjoy baseball. I played it growing up and my son played when he was younger. I enjoy high school, college, and minor league ball more than major league. I like being closer to the action, although I do fondly recall going to Riverfront Stadium and watching the Reds from the cheap seats.

    The sport I get most passionate about is basketball. I have played or coached for over thirty years and there is always a letdown at the end of March.(I don’t like the NBA much)

  14. Dan Determann says:

    Baseball is agame that requires pitch-to-pitch involvement of players, coaches, and fans. The season with playoffs could reach nearly 200 games and when it runs into November it is to long. But the knowledge of the game and its fans make it America’s game.
    True the fan base has slipped, but it is only among those that need the xbox version of life that this is true. Baseball requires thought and not action. Pitcher and catcher in harmony against the great hitters and the little hitters who could break a game wide open.
    This game gives me six degrees of separation from Cooperstown. In the 1920s after moving from Covington to Chicago my grandparents still would meet and talk with Mordecai Brown and Grover Alexander after games against and withthe Cubs. My grandparents sitting around and discussing baseball with some legends of the game. My grandfather talking about watching Walter Johnson pitch. My dad remembering Bob Feller’s no-hitter against the White Sox. Baseball is today and it is yesterday and it is tomorrow. The hiccup that is Clemons, Bonds, Canseco will dim as the owner’s realize the importance of the memories of the game and forget the business of the game.

  15. 1959. I am 6 years old and and the LA Dodgers win the National League pennant in a playoff series with the Milwaukee Brave and then beat the Chicago White in the World Series. Vin Schully and Jerry Doggett make it all come alive on the radio.

  16. Scott mentions 1959 and Vin Scully calling the game. Living in southern California enables us to still listen to Vin nearly every day of the season. He has been calling Dodger games for 57 of his 80 years. And one of his best “calls” was remaining silent for over a minute after Kirk Gibson hit that home run off of Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. The cacophonous euphoria of Dodger stadium was enough to tell the story.

    I feel bad for those folks who don’t understand that every single pitch is a mini-drama: catcher and pitcher teaming up on the batter based on the count, previous pitch, respective strengths, who’s on deck, in the hole, on base, and so on and so on. So many factors come into play on every single pitch. There’s nothing like it.

    “Baseball is like church: many attend, few understand.”
    –Leo Durocher, baseball executive

    Eric S.

  17. Eric S. is right in that “every single pitch is a mini-drama”. I never realized this until our son started playing baseball. I know it’s only little league level, but at the age of 12, he’s a natural pitcher, a great second baseman and short stop, and to top it all off, he’s a good hitter too. Those who are just waiting to see some action, don’t know the secret to truly enjoying a baseball game. Watching the pitcher wind up, looking for that wiley base runner while sizing up the batter, exchanging secret signals with the catcher – it all adds up to drama indeed. No matter if you’re up to bat, or in the field, everything and everyone works together on this “field of dreams”. Eating hotdogs, sitting out in the summer sun, listening to the heckling of the umps – ahh… nothing better in the world. And yes, Brad, especially when you’re in the bigger leagues, just walking into the stadium, and seeing that field – it’s magic.

    C. Hays

  18. i’m looking forward to seeing tommy glavine back in a braves’ uniform.

    best memory would probably be a on july 4th a few years back when the braves beat the red sox in extra innings. nick green (a utility infielder) did terrible all game striking out several times, then ended up hitting a walk-off homer to win the game.

    irony/tragedy? . . . try being a braves’ fan in october for the last 17 years.

  19. Brad in KY says:

    I’m a big Braves fan so obviously the decade of the 90’s is one great baseball memory. Particulary great moments would’ve been the entire “worst-to-first” 1991 season, especially the way the regular season ended, and then, of course, the greatest World Series ever against the Twins (even though we lost).

    In ’92 there was Francisco Cabrera’s hit and Sid Bream’s slide in the bottom of the 9th inning, with two outs, in Game 7 of the NLCS to beat the Pirates.

    1993 featured the last great pennant race ever between the Braves and Giants (Giants won 103 games and didn’t go to the playoffs).

    One of my worst memories would have to be seeing Chipper Jones injure his knee in Spring Training (against the Yankees, who trained in Ft. Lauderdale at the time) before the 1994 season (it would’ve been his rookie year – the strike wiped the season out, though). It was the first time I’d ever been to Spring Training.

    1995 was the Braves World Series Championship year, and I was fortunate to be able to attend Games One and Six in Atlanta. Maddux and Glavine started those two games, and the Indians had three hits combined in the two games (Glavine’s was 8 innings, one hit, in the clincher). If you know baseball, you know how good that Indians team was offensively – until they ran into the Braves, of course.

    1996 = Jim Leyritz homer of of Mark Wohlers in the World Series. I still get sick thinking about it. That launched the Yankees into their dynasty years, and the Braves have never been the same.

    Another great moment was sitting with my dad behind Hank Aaron in right field for an “Old-Timers” game in the now destroyed Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium. That must’ve been around 1988 or so. Good times. I love baseball.

    Seriously, I spent over a decade glued to the TV or trying to go to as many games as I could because the Braves were always so good. And in the early nineties it seemed like the entire season hinged upon every single pitch. Maybe you had to be there…

  20. Cubs, 1969 —

    A summer day, a pennant race — Fergie Jenkins pitching to Randy Hundley;
    Joe Pepitone, Glenn Becker, Don Kessinger, Ron Santo;
    Billy Williams, Jose Cardenal, Ernie “Let’s Play Two!” Banks; Leo Durocher in the dugout, Jack Brickhouse in the WGN booth. Park district bus tours to 1 pm weekday games, coming back with mini-bats (kids, don’t swing those at each other!) and real cloth baseball caps in Cubbie blue. Vienna red hots, and Heilmann’s Old Style beer scent on our sneakers, even as we drove past the steel mills (still operating, still erupting smoke and flame) on the way home.

    There is an angel with a flaming sword standing between me and that Wrigley Field scene.

  21. Beautiful post, Michael. Wonderful prose.

    Ah, just the mention of the subject takes me to my usual seat above third base at Dodger Stadium, or as I like to call it, “The Happiest Place on Earth,” Dodger Dog and beer in hand. And if you know anything about the Dodgers since 1988, you’ll know it’s about the place and the experience, not how the team is doing.

    Jeff in Ohio, if I was around during that summer day, it was in newborn diapers. Living in the dorms at Fresno State in 1988, when scores of giants frontrunners became fair-weather Oakland fans watching in the TV rooms for a couple of weeks was sweet indeed for this lonely LA fan when Eckersley dealt that 3-2 slider to Kirk Gibson. As sweet as the series win itself.

    My grandparents heard or saw all the great and not-so-great Dodger moments from the ’30’s on. The one I would have loved to accompanied them to was September 9, 1965 and Sandy’s gem against Jeff’s Cubs.

    Y’all ever notice how many of the great moments in baseball history came at the expense of the Dodgers?

    Lest you think I’m only about LA, I love it all. Especially anyone playing SF or the damn Yankees. I’ll watch any game and in some ways like a little league game just as much, in spite of coaches and parents’ attempts to wring the last drop of innocence from that venue, too. I’d enjoy college ball more if it weren’t for the infernal DINK of the aluminum bats. Real bats go CRACK!

    Looking forward to seeing what Joe Torre does this season, no matter the incongruity of seeing him in a Dodgers uniform. When I can’t be at Chavez Ravine, I’ll be sitting in the stadium seats, bought during the recent renovation, in my garage, with a Bud in one hand and the transistor radio in the other, and imagine Grandpa is beside me.

  22. OK – one more comment, a little more friendly to the game. I tell young ladies that if they want the perfect husband they need to marry a Cubs fan. He knows all about long term commitment and loyalty and sticking it out through all the disappointments of life.

    Of course, now that I live in Baltimore, much the same can be said of Orioles fans.

  23. For the record: Boston won the World Series, since no one answered. But for ONE GAME, it may have been Cleveland…

    Sigh…

    From a hopeless Cleveland Indians fan who totally gets where this post is coming from.

    Baseball season is when my son and I connect in so many ways, with so many memories of talks while we listen to the games together. I hope when I am gone someday and he still listens, he will remember his dad and smile.

    By the way, we have Tom Hamilton on the radio. There simply is NOOOOO other announcer like him on the globe. After one listen, there is no way you could say the Baseball is boring. I swear the man is going to have a stroke, heart attack, or both if the Indians win a World Series with a walk-off home run in the 9th of the 7th Game.

    So will I.

  24. After putting in my submission yesterday, I was forwarded the news item that an arrest warrant was issued on Scott Spiezo and that the Cards accordingly let him go.

    Spiezo certainly has one of the Top 10 home runs in World Series history with the 3-run dinger in Game 6 against the Giants with the Angels down 5 runs in the 7th after the Rally Monkey made his appearance. I was at the Big A that night and it was so loud that I could not hear my brother-in-law screaming in my ear. Angels go on to win game and series. Largest come-from-behind victory in the WS history in an elimination game.

    Pray for Scott and his family.

  25. Caine,

    Tom Hamilton may be a great baseball announcer, and you are lucky to have him there in Cleveland.

    But I must say with all do respect, that Vin Sculley has been a gift from God for Dodger fans and baseball in general.

    For 55 years Vin has been painting masterpieces in the Summertime.

    In my mind, there will never be another like him.

    Thank you Lord for Vin Sculley!

    – Steve

  26. Howie (Indiana) says:

    My favorite memory is Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton and the rest of the 1980 Phillies, who have rescued me from the fate of all my friends who follow the Cubs. I begin each season with no worries about unrequited passion. Baseball makes me a care free 11-year-old, watching Tug McGraw leaping off the mound.

    My favorite road trip involves a summer weekend in the 1990’s. Three fans (me, my brother, and a good friend from college), three games in 28 hours (2 at Wrigley, 1 at Milwaukee County Stadium), five hours of sleep, and each game with memories of it’s own.

    And I love how every fan can love it’s own broadcaster. Of course, I am partial to Harry Kalas, though he isn’t what he used to be. The Phillies even have Chuck Brodsky, who writes and records baseball folk music, with half the songs being about Phillies, and the other half about the rest of the league.

    It doesnt surprise me that you’re a baseball guy, and it further explains why I always come back to your blog.

  27. Great post. I came here from Julie D.’s Happy Catholic link today to check out your review of Scott Hahn’s tapes. In wandering around trying to piece together your story (I’m a Protestant considering the Catholic church for the past couple of years), I found this post on baseball and couldn’t resist. I feel the same way about baseball as you. A lifelong Cardinals fan (sorry!), my love of the game has grown over my lifetime and is more about the game than the team. The players change, the owners change, sometimes the cities change, but the game pretty much remains the same. I love it!

    I recently worked on updating my blog header and asked if it should read, as a faithful commenter once said about me, “she loved God, her family and baseball.”

    Can’t wait to read more about your story. BTW, one of the main influences on me has been my 20 yods who studied “post Evangelicalism” and Thomas Merton long before me. One of the things he really wanted to do was make a “pilgrimage” to the Gethsemane (sp?) monastery before he left for college. We’re about 3 hours away and travel to Georgetown occasionally with dh on business.

    Blessings,

    Sandy