10/9: Baseball’s Bond

By John Sparks

These are the best of times and the worst of times.

sparks-caricature-440The best of times is the excitement as we go down to the wire of the 2009 baseball season where more is riding on each pitch and every at bat.

For those of us whose passion is the National Pastime, the worst of times is the annual realization we are also fast approaching that void in our lives between the last out of the World Series and that magical day in February when the pitchers and catchers report.

And for us Yankees fans, let’s also hope that Charles Dickens’s memorable line in “A Tale of Two Cities” isn’t some sort of foreshadowing of  a fluke which has been prevalent in the recent post-season history of Major League Baseball—a wild card team emerging as World Champions.

But let’s enjoy the moment, and along with it the excitement of Sabathia, Burnett, Teixeira, and Swisher experiencing for the first time what it means to be a Yankee in October.

It is also the time when we pair up and predict what the next few weeks will hold.

Prior to the beginning of this year’s ALDS, I had concluded that the St. Louis Cardinals were hands down favorites in the NL.  Pujols and crew seemed to dominate in comparison to the Phillies, Rockies, and Dodgers.  But, since Joe Torre’s crew has dominated the first two matchups, I am now leaning toward a return to the magical time of the 1950’s where the Yankees and Dodgers were always on the menu, the games were always played in the daytime, and a young red-headed boy in Texas would stay glued to the radio.

The world would stop and even the teachers would allow the entire class to listen to the games.  I still feel the pain of losing my 25 cents in lunch money on a World Series bet the day Bill Mazeroski hit that high hanging curveball served up by Ralph Terry at Forbes Field in the 7th game of the 1960 classic.  It was the first time a World Series had been won with a walk-off home run.  I am still adamant that if Tony Kubek had not been the victim of that bad hop at shortstop which hit him in the throat in that same game, not only would Bobby Richardson still be the outstanding player of that Series, but the course of history would have changed.

I was sitting with my best friend, Gary Canada, in Mr. Baldock’s 8th grade science-health class listening to the radio when all of this occurred.  (It’s similar to one remembering where they were when they learned President Kennedy was assassinated or where they were on September 11, 2001.)

In 1993, 33 years later, sitting around a campfire in Palestine, Texas, Gary and I and our wives were listening to the radio when it happened for just the second time in the history of the game — Joe Carter hitting the walk-off against Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams.  The game was still the cement which had connected two lifelong friends.

It’s a game which connects young and old; an 80-year old grandfather can talk to an 8-year old about baseball.  It bridges generation gaps, as well as geographical gaps.

The first time I met Lee Miringoff and Barbara Carvalho was one of those encounters in life you never forget.  It was 1998, and here was this Texan who had just taken over as Executive Producer for Political Coverage at WNBC in New York meeting for the first time the folks who would be conducting preference polls and analyzing election results and exit polling.

The two pollsters noticed a book on my shelf — a book on Yankee Stadium.  Lee and Barb remarked about the book and told me that its author, Ray Robinson, was Lee’s father-in-law.  (Ray is also THE authority on Lou Gehrig.)

I replied that I had always been a Yankees fan.

Well, their eyes rolled as if to say, “Yeah, right.  I am so sure that some guy from Texas has always been a Yankees fan.”  (Remember the reaction when Hillary Clinton had uttered similar words a couple of years later when she had decided to run for the United States Senate from New York.)

I caught the look from Lee and Barb, and threw down the gauntlet rather defiantly:  “Okay, guys.  If you two are such huge Yankees fans, then tell me:  who wore
number 11 before Hector Lopez when he joined the team in 1959.”

Neither Lee nor Barb could come up with the answer, and without skipping a beat, I told them it was Jerry Lumpe and they could “look it up”.  That is what my
great-grandmother’s first cousin on my mother’s side of the family would have said.  His name was Charles Dillon Stengel, and he was the manager of the Yankees that terrible day in 1960 at Forbes Field when Mazeroski beat my Bombers.

But, that afternoon in 1998 sitting with Lee and Barbara in my New York office, a friendship was cemented which has become a life-long bond.  And, it’s all because of baseball.

So, regardless of who you are for, this is a special time of the year for all of us who share the love of the game.

And, the next for the next few weeks, we will put all our other activities on a back burner as we live and die on each pitch.