T his is the best time of the year and it doesn’t take a weatherman or wizard to explain why.
Any time baseball is in the spotlight, that’s the best time of the year.
Even those graybeards who don’t really care for the post- season tournament in Major League Baseball – in which eight teams qualify for a run at the world championship rather than two pennant winners – are thrilled that hum-babes still dominate the sports pages and television in the fall.
So what, if a wild-card trumps an ace? A ballclub doesn’t have to finish the regular season with the best record in its league to qualify for the tournament.
That changes baseball, which is nothing more than custom wrapped tightly in tradition, held together by stitches of folklore.
But at the finish, it still comes down to two teams in the World Series. That’s what counts and the marketing and advertising geniuses haven’t found a way around it, yet.
The new look owes everything to the old gleam.
The playoffs changed the postseason but didn’t ruin the national pastime.
Whatever it is, it’s still baseball. It’s our game.
As Thomas Wolfe saw it, “The scene is instant, whole and wonderful. In its beauty and design that vision of the soaring stands, the pattern of 40,000 empetalled faces, the velvet and unalterable geometry of the playing field and the small lean figures of the players. . . .”
In his 1983 “Sports Illustrated Baseball” book, Jerry Kindall, the much-loved retired University of Arizona coach, recalled his introduction to the game, thanks to his father, an excellent athlete himself.
“I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota,” Jerry wrote, “and when time and money allowed, Dad would take my brothers, the neighborhood kids and me to Lexington Park to watch the St. Paul Saints, a Triple-A farm club of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“It is easy to remember the warm sun on the wooden left-field bleachers, the scramble for foul balls, the visits through the fence with the visiting team bullpen batteries, the pride I felt when the Saints won and Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Don Zimmer and Clem Labine did well.”
Joe Garagiola, in his 1988 “It’s Anybody’s Ballgame,” plunked a note on the heartstrings familiar to us all.
“We put black tape around our first real baseball,” Joe wrote. “I remember you couldn’t play with it on the street or you’d wear it out. With our first good baseball, we just played catch – and we had to be on the grass when we did it . . . some nights that baseball even had a bed to sleep in.”
In his 1984 masterpiece “The Golden People,” Paul Gallico described a typical Babe Ruth home run:
“When the famous, dry ‘click’ was heard as the white ball arched and fielders stood with their hands helplessly placed upon their hips, their heads turned for a last farewell glimpse of the departing sphere, the great roar that exploded from the stands was for the Babe, but the salute was to the unconquerable, unquenchable us.”
Mr. Gallico hit a grand-slam homer with that line. That’s precisely what baseball, the greatest game of all, is about . . .
The unconquerable, unquenchable us.
Though Corky Simpson retired from the Citizen in December, he writes a weekly column.