I gave my wife strict instructions not to plan anything involving me for the weekend of April 18-19. I’d planned to be at Truist Park in Atlanta (boy that new name for Braves stadium is going to take some time getting used to!) The Braves were scheduled to host the San Francisco Giants. Finally, baseball is here!
Or so we thought. But the coronavirus threw me a big sweeping curve. That thing came right out of left field.
Lifelong baseball fans dream all winter about the start of the new baseball season. It’s called the Hot Stove League, so named because the old-timers would sit around a hot stove, usually at a country store, and talk baseball and the upcoming season. What are my team’s prospects for next year? What players have been traded? What managers have been fired? And there was lots of talk and arguments about who the best players are.
Of course, Truist Park was dark that weekend. All baseball from Little League to Major League is shut down until further notice because of the coronavirus. Obviously, all these suspensions and postponements are necessary, and who knows when we’ll hear “Play Ball!” again.
While staring into space and ruminating (Margo would say pouting) over the lack of baseball, I found myself doing some time-traveling.
I traveled back to my Granny Trantham’s little one-bedroom mountain cottage and, once again, tuned in the Mutual Radio Network’s baseball Game of the Day. In the 1950s, plenty of baseball was still played in the daytime and the Mutual Network broadcast a game every afternoon.
These were pre-TV days at our house, and Mom or Dad usually had control of our Philco radio. But Granny didn’t live far away. My Grandpa Trantham died young so Granny lived alone. She welcomed my company and didn’t mind me listening to her radio.
After the game, I would seek out some sort of stick for a bat then walk over to the gravel road to toss small rocks in the air and hit them into an open field. That night, I would fall asleep hitting home runs in my mind.
Sometimes I hear voices in my head, especially during the summer. The voices of Al Helfer, Art Gleeson, or Bob Neal describing, on the Game of the Day, another great catch by Willie Mays, a home run by Mickey Mantle, or an outstanding pitching performance by Don Newcombe.
I’m thinking of the many everyday expressions that entered our vocabulary directly from the game of baseball:
He “knocked it out of the park.”
Mom “hit a home run” when she served us that pie.
I’ll tell you this “right off the bat.”
Joe “struck out” with that sales pitch.
I couldn’t “get to first base” with that client.
He already has “two strikes” against him.
She “threw me a curve ball.”
Can you “pinch hit” for me?
I’m going to “swing for the fences” next time.
Let’s all “step up to the plate” and beat this virus.
And the list goes on and on.
Baseball has gone through many changes since its invention in the 1850s (and it wasn’t invented by Abner Doubleday, by the way!). It’s currently struggling to adapt to modern technology. It’s had its share of scandals from the Black Sox fixing scandal in the 1919 World Series to the scandals of the steroid era.
Baseball will continue to be America’s Pastime for many reasons. I believe the main one being that it’s easy to understand. While everybody may not grasp the nuances of the game, the main object is the same today as it was in the 1850s: hit the ball and run to first base.
And at some time, every kid in America has tried to hit a round ball with a stick or a bat and run to first base. Hopefully, before long, kids of all ages will once again hear “Play Ball!”
After 57 years in the radio industry, Dave Hogan is enjoying his retirement in North Carolina. He’d love for you to say ‘howdy’ to him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.