Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Batter up!

I’ve been enjoying the warmer Spring weather these days, especially at 6:30 in the morning as my wife and I take our dog for a 2-mile walk. Much more enjoyable without a heavy coat and gloves!

But my favorite part of this weather, and this time of year, is the anticipation of another baseball season. When I start seeing more green on the ground I think about my beloved Phillies taking the field and starting another campaign…hoping that this year might just be “the year.” The last time Philadelphia saw a major sport champion was 1983 with the 76ers. The Phillies last won in 1980, the Flyers in 1975, and the Eagles? Well, in 1960 they won the NFL Championship (a precursor to the Super Bowl). So it’s been 24 years… which means my kids haven’t seen ANY championships. But this year, like every year, I begin the season with anticipation and hope. Baseball is my favorite sport, and despite all the problems the game faces these days, I still come back. If the Phils don’t make it…well, I’m used to it. We Philadelphians are good at losing. It’s what we do. For a nice treatise on this phenomenon, check out Joe Queenan’s book, True Believers.

And each year I think back to my baseball memories. Particularly the Phillies of the 70s and into that World Series year of 1980: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Greg Luzinski, and more. And now we have Howard, Utley, Rowand, Hamels, and the gang. On paper, a good team. I think back to the days and nights I spent glued to my radio, listening to Harry Kalas, Richie Ashburn, and By Saam on WCAU (now WPHT, and once again the radio home of the Phillies.) Both Saam and Kalas are in the Hall of Fame as winners of the Ford Frick Award. Ashburn is in the Hall for his days as a player.

A few years ago I discovered I had a fellow fan (and sufferer) in musician Chuck Brodsky. I don’t know much about him, except that he is a folk singer who has written quite a few songs about baseball, and quite a few about Philadelphia sports (including a song about the now infamous “Great Santa Snowball Debacle of 1968” with the Eagles.) Check out a few of my favorites. These include “Lefty” (about Steve Carlton), “Letters in the Dirt” (Richie Allen), “Whitey and Harry” (about my favorite radio team), and of course “The Hockey Fight Song” (with a mention of Dave “The Hammer” Schultz). You may know Brodsky from his song “Radio” (from the movie of the same name, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.).

This time of year also makes me want to pull out some of my favorite baseball books, including the works of W.P. Kinsella, such as Shoeless Joe (the basis for the movie Field of Dreams) and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Another favorite is Glove Affairs by Noah Liberman, which is a sociological history of the baseball glove. Sounds kinda dry, but it is actually very interesting. Other books I’ve enjoyed over the years include:

Summerland by Michael Chabon
Voices of the Game by Curt Smith
Bang the Drum Slowly by mark Harris
Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof
The Great American Novel by Philip Roth
For the Love of the Game by Michael Shaara

So baseball season begins this coming Sunday. The Phils have their first game on Monday. I’m not sure what it is, but I keep coming back. Despite its warts: the egos, the salaries, the steroid issues…there is still something about baseball that gets me excited. Or, in the words of the new Phillies promo campaign, gives me “goosebumps.”

Man, I love this time of year.

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