After fifty one days of sequestration, I finally worked up the nerve to go shopping and I mean actually inside of a store. It wasn’t so much courage that got me there but rather that thing called cabin fever. I think I pulled it off, but of course we just don’t know about anything these days, do we? There have been times in the past when I have surely smelled of alcohol but that was a different kind for a different reason.
Yes, I have the yips and sometimes the dog walks, pleasant though they may be, just aren’t enough. For one thing, where are my box scores? Look, playing ball is still the best way to enjoy the game but I finally reached that age where, just like the tykes in tee ball, even if I hit the ball my legs don’t know what to do next. So it’s fun to watch and then, lacking that, catch up on the box scores of last night’s games and see how everybody did. There is enough information there that you can almost re-create the whole game,which was something I tried to do often as a young lad delivering the afternoon newspaper. In July and August the sun would be hot enough to blend the ink right into my hands as I folded the papers before practicing my peg home (the spot on the customers’ porches right in front of the screen doors, preferably just right so they could open the door without touching the paper). In between stops I would take peeks at the sports page and see how my favorite players performed. Oh, Rocky Colavito was 0-for-5 again. But Herb Score struck out 14 and the Indians beat Kansas City again. It took a little study but the motivation was there. I learned that Schndnst was just an abbreviation for Red Schoendienst, a name I was proud to know how to spell early on. And, of course, Klszwsk, or Ted Kluszewski, the guy with no sleeves.
We played ball a lot and however we could. Some kind of bat and something resembling a ball. My brother Jimmy and I were made assistant managers of the family market one summer in the late fifties. That’s a fancier way of saying that the store was in what the business boys call a downward spiral and we, as almost teenagers, were left in charge of things during very slow business days while our Dad attended to other important things. We were supposed to keep busy and we did that but it got boring. So if the Pirates were playing in Chicago it would be a day game and, in those days, the Cubs and Pirates were often contending but for seventh place. We would be listening on KDKA and inevitably it would get us fired up for ball. Playing ball in a store behind showcases and in front of a walk in cooler was not ideal but it was what we had. Also, there was the matter of a bat and a ball. There was a steel, the instrument for sharpening knives that had a handle, which was handy. Okay, but what about a ball? The steel was narrow, so it couldn’t be too big or too small or we’d have nothing but foul tips. Wadded up paper was too light. Jimmy, ever resourceful, came up with a solution. Over by the meat slicer was a loaf of Wonder Bread, so the cops could come in and make themselves a sandwich. They weren’t doing it so much lately with the baloney not being so fresh, so who would care? So he wadded up a slice and went into his windup. That Wonder ball was hard to hit from 20 feet, I’ll tell you. But we had a game and some laughs.
So it is surprising how well I’ve adjusted to not having baseball this season. Those classic games on You Tube or MLB are okay but I haven’t seen as many as I thought I would. I have a bunch of baseball books but they have all been read. The two best are both by David Halberstam, October 1964, an excellent description of the shifting balance of power in baseball as the old Yankees dynasty crumbled, and Summer of ’49, a story so well told about a year when both leagues had furious, exciting pennant races that it inspired me to replay the entire season with my Strat-O-Matic board game. Yes, I confess, I am one of those. I’ve played alone and with other people for over fifty years now and I’m not tired yet. I know you are all dying to know, so I can tell you that the Yankees did not beat the Red Sox by a game as in real life. No, I was not nearly as smart as Casey Stengel and Boston won by three games without ever being seriously challenged except early on by Cleveland. No, I did not cheat. The Dodgers came in more to form. edging the Cardinals by two games after, as in real life, St. Louis was swept in a four game series by lowly Cincinnati in the last week. Then I was somewhat surprised when Brooklyn lost the World Series to Boston. Not enough pitching after Don Newcombe and Preacher Roe. Oh, and Ralph Kiner tied Babe Ruth‘s record with 60 home runs for Pittsburgh. So I have now outed myself to the world but guess what? I don’t care, I’ve got something to do and my spouse has not shot me yet. Of course, we don’t have a gun. Actually, she loves baseball as much or more than I do, but rolling dice is not her favorite sound.
It is going to be very interesting to see what happens to this game of ours as well as the rest of our culture as this pandemic plays out. Here is hoping we all make it, faux ball or not.