Originally Posted Oct 2012
Like all subjects involving sports, individual likes/dislikes are totally subjective. That I prefer a certain sport or certain high profile athlete is nothing more than one guy’s favorite barbecue joint or Bond girl. The only difference is I have a hugely popular website bully pulpit to trumpet my favorites. That said….. I’ve always been “A Baseball Guy”. ……..
Baseball has always been “my sport” of choice. It was the one competitive team sport I played with enough level of (marginal) skill to appreciate the nuances of being
“really good” at it.
In my small town growing up era we transitioned seamlessly thru “the big three” sports from age 9 thru 15-16. Not unlike birds migrating and snakes shedding their skins, everyone simply “knew” instinctively when you put away your glove and bat to pick up a football to pass or punt and then move indoors (or to the driveway court) to dribble and play H-O-R-S-E.
There were always a few who dabbled in “the country club sports” of golf and tennis and a handful of swimmers but our neighborhood herd migrated like caribou and wildebeast with “the big three” seasons.
We had an excellent city recreation department that offered well-managed competitive leagues and fine facilities. But we played unorganized “sandlot ball” on vacant lots as much as in “leagues”. Alas, it was pre-CRA so they were separated by race. I can attest that our town did operate recreation programs and facilities for all its citizens…. but they were “separated”. As a 10-year old I had little influence on such weighty societal ponderables. It would be many decades before I would become a modern-day Thomas Paine – crusading cyber pamphleteer changing the course of mighty rivers by the power of my keyboard.
ASIDE: Just twenty-four miles away a certain “Putz” was also growing up. That our lives would later intersect is yet another testimony to Lady Luck and “whattayaknow”.
There were no “select” teams or AAU traveling all-star squads. There were a few kids who specialized in one or two of “the big three” but most of us just played whatever was in-season. Kids who were naturally better athletes separated themselves pretty early. In seasonal pick-up games, the pecking picked order usually saw the same kids go early regardless of the sport.
The politically correct movement was many many years away. We “kept score” and we all knew who the better players were. There were bullies….. and girls. Girls played with dolls or whatever girls played with. “Girls” were a generally mysterious gender. Not that I ever heard the word “gender” in those days.
We also had several town characters. One of my growing-up “play ball with” buddies – “Butch” – got really screwed-up on drugs and alcohol and conked in the head with a tire iron in his early 20s and became an Ernest T. Bass-like character. He disappeared about 10-15 years ago. God only knows. His father was “postal” before we knew what that meant so “Butch” was probably pre-destined to his fate. The drugs, alcohol and tire iron upside his head simply precipitated it. Your town probably had “a Butch” too.
For a middle-class white boy in the small-town South, I rather believe mine was a mid-twentieth century Huck Finn / Tom Sawyer life. We even had a river on the edge of town but it was “yucky” with zero recreational value.
Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider and Willie Mays were the pro athlete heroes. For reasons referred to above, most of my crowd leaned toward The Mick, The Duke, Al Kaline, etc.
Our town had a very popular Class A minor league baseball team. The team’s GM – Lou Gorman – lived across the street from me. Mr Gorman later became GM of the Red Sox. I got my social security card in order to hawk peanuts and cracker jacks at “the ballpark”. That’s probably where my love of Baseball comes from.
The current MLB playoffs are fascinatingly wonderful for me. The no-clock chess-game dynamics of the sport. It literally is not over ’til the last man’s out. Last year’s Game Six still gives me goosebumps to think about. It seems every game of these playoffs is a nail-biter. ….. Is it just me or are the players getting younger and younger. The kid playing third base for the Orioles is FIVE YEARS YOUNGER than our “Kid”. I can’t begin to wrap my brain around THAT!
I love watching college football despite the glaring hypocrisy infecting the whole enterprise…. but “baseball” is just special to me. I have no idea why the pitcher’s mound is 60’6” from home plate. It just is.
This week on The Good Sports…. Art and I interview a real live “compliance officer”.
“Kindly Old Bill” Friday died today. He was 93. Yes, on a Friday. The odds were always “one in seven”…. same with Tuesday Weld. Yes, that was my very first thought when I heard.
Our society specializes in putting people on pedestals so they can knocke’em off those same pedestals. Bill Friday may be among the last of the pedestalized persons to never be completely de-pedestalized. You all know he was “The UNC System”. He built the darn thing – aka “the UNC system” and became synonynmous with it.
Mr Friday and I likely cancelled one another vote in national elections over many years. He was indeed “a liberal” and a strong proponent of academia. He also was a very out-spoken critic of the escalation of Big Time college sports. He and I agreed on that.
He hosted a popular interview show on WUNC for many years. I never met him but I know many who knew him well. They all liked him a lot. I think I would have liked him too. He actually looked like my Dad. He lived a very rich, full and productive life and leaves a strong legacy…. at a rather inappropriate time by coincidence. He leaves still atop that pedestal. That says A LOT these days. RIP Mr Friday.