I just finished reading a marvelous baseball book entitled, Where They Ain’t: The Fabled Life and Untimely Death of the Original Baltimore Orioles, The Team That Gave Birth to Modern Baseball, by Burt Solomon. It is a wonderful story about players, such as John McGraw and “Wee” Willie Keeler and Hughie Jennings who loved the game, and the fans who loved the players, and the owners who loved a profit. The last page was in fact, moving and I’m sorry that I came to this book too late to discuss it in Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience. I won’t quote any of that last page and ruin it for anyone who reads it, but I will say that clearly, Solomon understands the hold that baseball can take on its fans.
There was another passage toward the end that got me to thinking beyond baseball. (I do that occasionally.) Of Joe Kelley, an old Oriole, future Hall of Famer, and manager of the Boston Beaneaters (as the Braves were then known) Solomon wrote, that Kelley “assailed the quality of the modern ballplayers, compared with the old-timers.” This was in 1908. The year in which Ty Cobb turned 21. In researching my various books, I’ve come across similar sentiments expressed by every past generation of ballplayers about the current generation of ballplayers.
All “old-time” players are better than “modern” players. The old-timers played when we were young.
As adults, we see ballplayers as fellow human beings who happened to possess an incredible skill. As children, however, they were our heroes who performed feats almost beyond our imagining. They did what none of our fathers or adult neighbors did, that’s for sure. Their job was (and is) to play baseball. They got paid to actually roam that magically green grass when summer was on and school was out. That’s why Shoeless Joe, upon discovering the diamond cut into the cornfield in the movie, Field of Dreams asks, “Is this Heaven?”
You bet it is.
It’s not just the ballplayers, of course. Nothing was as good as the “good old days,” which is a fascinating human concept. I used to hear my parents and their friends talk about the good old days, which seemed strange because they were talking about the Great Depression and World War II. What was so good about that? Youth, it seems, can even over-power world-wide calamities.
First ballgame, first car, first kiss; all treasures of our youth and they glimmer with the polish that only Innocence can provide, even if our team lost, that car was a rust bucket, or the realization that the first kissee (or kisser, depending) is now, in fact, just as old as we are.
Since we can’t relive the good old days, our only alternative is to keep right on manufacturing new ones, and the only way to do this is to stay young. Play catch. Order sprinkles. Laugh loudly, cry hard, and get up in Friday’s and dance in the aisles because a great song came on and, well, why wouldn’t you?
One of those old Orioles, John McGraw was known for his competitiveness, for living and dying for every game, for every pitch. There’s no clock in baseball, but there is in this Game that we’re all playing.
Play it to win.
Go on—order the sprinkles.