Monday, August 27, 2012

An Old Flame Flickers Once Again

“I’m done,” I said back in 1995 when major league baseball players went on yet another strike.  I pretty much always side with the owners in players’ strikes because the players are already overpaid, and the owners take all the risk and pay all the overhead.  “I’m done!”

I was done with a sport I had followed passionately since my earliest childhood, a sport I played on playgrounds, baseball fields, and even my own front yard and street.  I was the kid on the bike with the baseball glove hanging on the handlebars.  I was the kid who came to school sweaty on spring mornings after playing the bunting game with my brothers in our driveway.  I was the kid who was enamored with a boy in my class named David Faucett because he was somehow related to Mickey Mantle.  I was the kid who had the collie that got down in ready position and fielded grounders with her mouth and fearlessly went after short pop-ups too.  I was the kid who played one-on-one whiffle ball in my front yard.  A lawn chair was the strike zone allowing for walks and called strikes.  A grounder was an out.  A base hit was getting the ball to the street in the air.  A double was a line drive over the hedge at the edge of the house across the street.  And a home run was a blast over the power lines that stretched parallel above the hedge in my neighbor's yard across the street.  And if the batter got it over the highest power line it was a grand slam whether anybody was on base or not.  Hours and hours of this through my growing up years.  I was done with a sport I loved to play. 

I was done with a sport I watched from the early days of The Game of the Week on Saturdays to the more liberal coverage in the late 80s and early 90s.  I still remember when my dad got us our first color TV so we could watch the All-Star Game in color in 1972.  I was done with baseball.  I still played softball for a while, but after 1995 I didn’t watch a major league game for years.  The only exception was the great home run chase in 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.  I did get interested in watching them chase Roger Maris’ record.  But that was it.  I didn’t follow any team.  I didn’t watch the All-Star game or the World Series.  I was done.

And then I made the mistake of going to a game at Orioles Park at Camden Yards two years ago.  My first baseball love was the Baltimore Orioles.  I flirted with Cardinals off and on.  And I considered myself a Royals fan for many years too.  But my first love was the Orioles.  I made no bones about my devotion.  I was a catcher in Little League and my coach, Bill Nevins, called my Etchebarren because that was the name of the Orioles’ catcher.  I first fell for O’s when I saw them sweep the Dodgers in the World Series in 1966.  And then when I found out that Brooks Robinson was from Little Rock, the city I was born in and lived in till I was 8-years-old, well, I was smitten.  I knew their line up from top to bottom.  I loved Frank Robinson and that great pitching staff of Cuellar and McNally and Palmer.  Boog Powell was a stud at first base and Paul Blair made centerfield look easy.  I loved those guys, knew all their stats, checked the box score every day in the paper, and pretended to be them when I was playing in the yard.  I was some fan.  Now and then they were on the Game of the Week and whenever they played the Kansas City (first the A’s, then the Royals), I could listen to them on the radio.  And of course, I enjoyed them in their three straight World Series too.  I didn’t enjoy those stinkin’ Amazin’ Mets beating them in ’69 or the Pirates knocking them off in ’71, but I loved it when Brooks and the boys put it to the Big Red Machine in 1970.  Ah, the memories …

The first flicker of that old flame sparked when I had the privilege to meet Brooks Robinson at a golf tournament in Hot Springs a few years ago.  Meeting a childhood hero was pretty cool, even for a guy like me in his 50s.  And that little spark rekindled more brightly yet when Dayna and I went to that game at Camden Yards in 2010.  Before I knew it, I had the Orioles on my favorite teams list in my I-phone app called ESPN Scorecenter which allows me to follow every game (every pitch even) in real time.  I can also listen to them on XM radio.  I can watch the game highlights on the team’s website.  I can even tell you the names of their players (though at my age I don’t worry about memorizing any stats).  When I fell for the Orioles again, they pretty much stunk.  They haven’t even had a .500 record for years.  But here it is the end of August and they are 12 games over .500 and right in the thick of the wild card race for the playoffs.  I guess they just needed me back on board.

And I guess that’s where I am these days: back on board with the O’s.  I’ve already bought two hats and a shirt, so I guess I’m committed.  Somebody once said something to this effect: “Within the heart of every man lives a little flame that still flickers from a childhood altar he built to his baseball idol.”  That little flame flickers once again.  And you know, I’m kind of glad it does.

Let’s go O’s!    

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