After a long winter, just about the time the winter blues have gotten me down and cabin fever has me as restless as a bear waking up from hibernation, ABC news announces that the Yankees have arrived in Tampa for Spring training. This is almost a religious holiday for me. The rejoicing, the partying on my part, is unrestrained. Can crocus and barbecues be far behind?
I love baseball, more than loving baseball, I love the Yankees. I’ve been a die-hard fan since 1972. Before that I was just an average fan. When we got our first color TV, and you could see the emerald grass of the old stadium, I often thought to myself, and aloud, how my father and uncle Christy would have reveled in the beauty of sports in color. Football and basketball, as well as baseball, but especially baseball.
Back in the day my father would be sitting in his chair in the corner of the living room watching the little TV screen. It was Sunday afternoon, summer, and baseball was on the tube (old nickname for television). It could be the Yankees, Dodgers, Giants. What did it matter they were all New York teams. (This was in the early fifties. The Mets were a long way from having their first at bat). Our front door would swing open and in would saunter uncle Christy down the hall. He never knocked, after all this was his brother’s house. You couldn’t see who was coming in from my dad’s vantage point in the living room, but he knew from the sound of the rolling footsteps. Always he would yell out, “Who forgot to lock the door?”. My uncle never replied to this. Instead he would come in, sit down on the couch, and in moments they would be bickering about the merits of this play or that. My father was in his glory with his older brother at his side. It was their dance and I caught the rhythm.
There is something about our national past time that is magical and patriotic all at once. I never tire of listening to Kate Smith sing God Bless America. When the cameras pan the audience I watch to see who is appropriately respectful and who is singing along. The people who sing get gold stars on my virtual report card. I am happy to say 98 percent of the fans are attentive. Of course the Star Spangled Banner brings me to my feet even at home. And when it is heartfelt by the vocalist it will bring me to tears, particularly when the camera’s eye rests on our beautiful men and women in uniform. I’ve been known to cheer when they get to, ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’.
Since Phil Rizzuto, Frank Messer, and Bill White my loyalty doesn’t stop at the team. It also extends to the TV announcers. In the past when there was a rain delay the network would stay with the announcers while rain poured down on the field. My favorite at that time was always the exchanges between Phil and Bill. It was better than any scripted comedic teams. Bill would feed Rizzuto a line, and Holy Cow we were off to the races. It was unrehearsed, it was natural it was New York baseball.
Today my favorite is Michael Kay, smart, witty and knowledgeable. He can maintain a fun banter with O’Neill, Flaherty, or Ken Singleton (another wonderful announcer). His show center stage is entertaining and better than most interview shows.
The ball players and their respective teams have lifted the spirits of family and loved ones while they were restricted to hospital beds. My sister Christine, and a friend Jessie, were often able to forget their woes as they cheered Mariano at the bottom of the ninth in yet another save situation. When I would call Christine during her long hospital stays she would want to discuss the recent game rather than her ailments.
The list of idolized ball players is longer than my throwing arm. Each one right up until Jeter’s 3000 hit, doing it in Yankee style with a Home Run, has given us plenty to cheer about, even while our country’s at war, in the face of a horrific economy, and the specter of defaulting on our national debt. The Boys of Summer lighten our moods especially when they beat the Red Socks, they make it a better day.