"In a year that has been so improbable... the impossible has happened!"
That was Vin Scully announcing Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, immediately following a famous bottom-of-the-ninth home run by a hobbling Kirk Gibson, batting against closer-extraordinaire Dennis Eckersley. The walk-off homer, as they now call them, won the game for the Los Angeles Dodgers and gave them the momentum needed to beat the Oakland A's for their last World Series title. I was 32 in October that year and remember that home run like it was yesterday. I was camping with my brother in a remote stretch of the Columbia River in Washington State and felt very fortunate to be able to receive the broadcast where we were. We were about 20 miles from the nearest town, but they may have heard us whoop and holler that night.
I grew up in the L.A. area and was a huge Dodger fan, but I would not have been as big a fan if I hadn't spent a lot of time in the playground playing baseball. There are several reasons why I think baseball is better for kids than other sports, but I had very good hand-eye coordination, could easily run, catch and hit, but most importantly, it was one of the few sports in which my diminutive height as a kid didn't affect my skill and success. I did have asthma, so organized ball was out, but that didn't keep me from helping my best friend train in high school, and it didn't keep me from enjoying baseball on the school grounds. And I was pretty good.
Like golf, bowling, tennis, wrestling, volleyball, football, soccer and swimming, people who have played the sport are much more likely to watch them when they can't play. Baseball is also considered "America's National Pastime," which is a nod to its even wider appeal, similar to soccer and football, but it was the first truly national sport in the U.S.
Baseball is different from most other sports in that it doesn't have a time limit. A game can theoretically go on forever. When the pitcher has the baseball and there are runners on base or a tied score, intensity rises the longer he holds the ball. I remember many times when the pitcher just didn't want to throw the ball, afraid of the outcome. Occasionally the umpire would even have to step out to tell the pitcher to continue the game. Eventually, the pitcher does throw it, with or without the umpire's warning, once convinced that he must.
Baseball mimics life in a way. It runs on a serial timeline in which the life of the game literally follows the the ball. But it is more fair than real life in that both teams will always have the same number of opportunities for offense. A home run in the top of the 13th inning, for instance, doesn't automatically win the game, since the other team gets to have its at-bats in the bottom of the inning. If they tie the game, on to the 14th inning they go.
There have been so many exciting moments in this sport that's been played since the middle of the 19th century that you can write an encyclopedia-sized collection of them. (For younger readers, an encyclopedia used to be a set of dozens of books containing articles, history and a collection of all shared knowledge at the time of its printing.) Society's problems have been baseball's problems, too, and its social remedies have not always kept pace. Now it's a worldwide sport, with hundreds of foreign-born professional players in the major and minor leagues. But none of that would matter as much if I had never played it myself.
We did have several excellent memories and comments shared by friends and followers. Here are many of those (although some have been edited or paraphrased):
Sharon M.- I was never all that interested in baseball when I was young, but my father was an avid fan. He played baseball in high school, had a college scholarship because of his playing and went to a small farm team. He injured his shoulder, so never played professionally, but the coverage of the World Series games was the only thing that would keep him out of the hay fields in the summers. I would give anything to listen to his comments again while he listened to those games.
Robert M.- I love to visit at games, best sport for that. When my dad was alive we went every Monday that had a game playing. He loved to sit behind home plate and call every pitch. I miss my baseball buddy.
Nadyne H.- I have several great baseball memories beginning with watching 4 brothers all play exceptionally great! Then the incredible fun we had in high school going to see the Tucson Toros at Hi Corbett at night. Next I got to watch my two little guys play their way from T-ball through regular play! Now those great baseball game memories are centered on the major league games Jack has taken me to see. Baseball has played a big part in my life!
Jeff P.- In the 90s and my kids were young I would take them to see the Royals a couple of times a month. We would sit in Right Field General Admission. We'd have hot dogs and drinks and with all that plus parking it was around $50. It was the best entertainment value in town. I miss right field G.A. seats.
Paul H.- My big brother used to take me out of school and take me to mid-week "Businessman Special" games at Dodger Stadium... I came to truly love baseball, and as a young math nerd, I loved all of the statistics that the game provided that I got to pour over every single day. I got to watch Garvey, Lopes, Russel and Cey play nine seasons together, while also being the first team to have four players hit 30 home runs. They also had a long line of GREAT pitchers, too. I was too young to remember Koufax or Drysdale, but I got to see Don Sutton, Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Welch, Rick Sutcliffe, Dave Stewart, and many more... The Dodger Teams of the 70's and 80's were very special.
Royce- If I watched spectator sports, it would be Baseball. I have never been a fan of watching something I cannot be activity engaged in. Almost always something else better, to build, do, or see. I do sorta, watch golf on TV because it is a great way to take a nap. Over come by sleep before they get to the first pin. Baseball, to me, says American, in big bold letters and I can enjoy the pace of the game. So, I could watch Baseball.
Papa Wayne and MJS- I have loved baseball for years! Growing up in Richmond, VA, we saw the Yankees just about every Saturday - Mantle, Maris, Berra, Whitey.... it was great. Later, I had the option of coaching baseball or track. I chose baseball and coached in high school for 9 years. Now, my grandson is a pitcher at Georgia Southern University and we enjoy going to Statesboro for the home games. Recently, GSU beat number 2 ranked UGA in all three games of the series. My grandson closed in the first win and got a save in the second win!
BLSMSS- I got into baseball and softball due to my mom. She used to play with us when we had half the town at our house growing up, memories I still have of her hitting left-handed but catching with her right. Continuing my love for the game I get to see my kids playing for town teams, to taking a lady I cared for to the Syracuse Chiefs game and watched her get excited. To this day I watch the Yankees and the little league Championship games. All those memories, even with some of the disgrace from the pros, I still love the game. Those memories make me happy.
Habadabeer- I have great memories of my Dad taking me 2 hours north of where we lived in northern New York to watch our “home team” Montreal Expos play in Jarry Park. My childhood sports idol was “Le Grande Orange,” Rusty Staub. One of my clearest memories is the stadium announcer enunciating each syllable when John “Baaacaabelllaaa!” came up to bat! Back before digital TV, we used to be able to pick up snowy stations out of Quebec, broadcast in French of course. So my Dad would tune in to the same game on the radio, and watch it on TV with the volume off. The radio commentary was actually better because it had to be more descriptive. The best part, however, was the commercial breaks. They were synchronized to start and end at the same time, so you’d be watching a shaving commercial and listening to one for beer. Very entertaining! The team eventually moved to the Olympic Stadium, where, as my Dad tells it, the seats were so small and so tightly packed, “You could only rest one cheek at a time!” The Expos were never a powerhouse (although they came close to winning the pennant in ‘81, and had the best record of any team before the baseball strike ended their post season aspirations in ‘94), but they got a lot of great up and coming players. For a while, the AAA team in Syracuse where we live was their farm team, so I got a little nostalgic for the Expos grasping at that straw of connection. Speaking of AAA baseball though, it’s been some of the best playing I’ve seen! Maybe it’s because the players are hungrier, maybe the coaches are willing to take more chances. Whatever the reason, watching the Syracuse Chiefs/Skychiefs/Mets, I’ve seen a triple play, an in the park home run, and a suicide squeeze to win the game in the bottom of the ninth! Oh, plus hot dogs and beer!
Murphmurphys- Well I am a Massachusetts native and of course a die-hard Red Sox fan. We went through many years of frustration with some of the best teams in baseball but wondered if we would ever get there. Unfortunately my Dad never got to see them do it, but I finally did in 2004 and a few more times since, and its a great feeling
Happy Tails 2 U- Pittsburgh Pirates had #9 Bill Mazeroski, #21 Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. Need I say more?
Steve & Marci- My very first memories of my dad are of him sitting in a lawn chair, shirt off, cigarette in hand, listening to the Minnesota Twins on a transistor radio. I think he preferred listening to them on the radio over television all his life.
Eric and Kathy- I do enjoy going to a local minor league game occasionally. It's much better live with a hot dog and a beer, and at a reasonable price, probably the way baseball was a hundred years ago.
My final quote is from Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the U.S.: "Next to religion, baseball has had a greater impact on our American way of life than any other American institution."
Please feel free to add your own comments and memories below!
Jack Huber is a writer, blogger, poet and photographer. Like many, he is concerned about the psyche of our planet's inhabitants and wants to try to improve his little corner of it.