Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March Madness

What is it about baseball that makes us wax nostalgic? When March comes around, the sun shines brighter, the breeze is balmy and the grass Florida, in Arizona...and in my mind's eye. As the howling gale stirs the ancient dust and rattles the windows around me, the garden sundial...says, 'I count only the sunny hours...' and draws the blinds against the final gasps of winter. Why is this so? The turnstiles to the ballpark are not the gates to Paradise. In the best of times a batter is safe but a third of his at bats and his team beats all odds with anything more than a 57 percent winning percentage. But we fans acknowledge only the golden hours, the walk off hits, and the chasm of emptiness when September or October ends the season and we face the lonely hours of winter.
It has been that way for me since the 1960s. I was too young to be a fan when the Cards made the miraculous comeback in 1964, but old enough in 1967 to pick the sports section of the Chicago Tribune off the floor after my father had finished reading it and hunt up the box scores. I was old enough to listen to the Cubs' play by play as described by the likes of Jack Brickhouse, Lou Boudreau and Vince Lloyd.

 But instead of growing up a Cubbie, I followed the family allegiance to the Cardinals, learning to tune my mother's old Philco radio to a Peoria radio feed of the Redbird network in the hours before sunset when clear channel KMOX would overcome the static and lesser locals to beam in the gravelly play by play of then Cardinal announcers Harry Caray and Jack Buck.

It's easy to forget how much of being a baseball fan was experienced through our ears, over the radio: how much of our sports memory is a specific voice with a slang, a vernacular, a catch phrase of its very own. Maybe we watched one game a week on television...a Saturday afternoon game narrated by Kirk Gowdy and Tony Kubek. The game on TV was small, blurred, and black and white; the game on the radio was big and bright, with the immediacy of the crowd, the beer men and peanut vendors, and the ump behind home within virtual spitting distance of the radio speaker.

Sure, I remember watching poor ol' Bill Buckner dribble the ball between his legs; I whooped and hollered when Kirk Gibson limped home on a wing and a prayer for the Dodgers.  Blake and I were speechless with tension watching Chris Carpenter crush the Phillies in October 2011 with the sheer force of his will.

But I don't know if I ever actually saw Bob Gibson flying off the mound with the violence of his pitch; I just heard about it.

  And though Bob Forsch is gone now,  I still remember listening to him pitch his final no hitter late in the disappointing season of 1983 as we drove through a harvest night in Iowa.
 Through the miracles of technology we can watch all the baseball we want anymore; we can even  DVR the coastal games if we have discipline to ignore the urge to check the score.  But when March rolls around, I don't need to watch the games.  Whether I'm on the highway or working some gray afternoon in the greenhouse,  I can see those fields of dreams just fine .....on the radio.

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