Today’s ‘Boys of Summer’ missing key part of game

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So far this year I’m having trouble with baseball.

Not the game itself.

Some of the folks playing it ... and the way they’re playing. And by that, I don’t mean their skill but rather their attitudes.

Granted, they’re much better accidentally than I’ll ever be on purpose, even after a truckload of practice, especially since I have little talent other than working with a box of popcorn or getting through seven hot dogs by the fourth inning.

I know it’s early in the season, but it just seems different this year. There’s not the interest, the get-up-and-look-in-the-sports-section-or-turn-on-ESPN-to-see-who-won like before, especially as a boy when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.

I think this feeling is because baseball the business has eaten baseball the game, especially on the Major League level — and it’s tainting the whole system. It’s all about mega-bucks and while I’m a big believer in the free enterprise system, I’m pretty sure no one this side of the great divide is worth eleventeen squillion dollars yearly to hit, throw and catch a small round white object, especially when the umpire hollers “play” ball, not “work” ball.

Many players recently have had dollar signs in their eyes, asking for enough money to balance Rhode Island’s budget and to buy four other small states. Then they say it’s not about the money. Pray tell, then, what’s it about? More sunflower seeds in the dugout?

And all the steroids ... performance enhancing substances, they call them. Barry Bonds, the home run “king,” would have been a decent enough player without all the steroids he can’t remember if he took. I don’t believe Hank Aaron used the stuff, and Babe Ruth lived in an era when “dope” was the guy who couldn’t come in out of the rain — and both of them were pretty good.

Baseball had, and still has, so much going for it that I hate to see it go into the toilet.

Baseball ought to be like when, in my glory day, I gave it a try in Little League under ol’ Pittsboro High School’s everything coach H.H. Blankenship. I was convinced I was the answer to the question, “Who’s the best third baseman ever?” Of course, the fact that when my team was in the field, I stood on top of the base, trying to push off any runner daring to touch its faded covering was not going to endear me to playing much once the season started.

Plus I swung at the first three pitches thrown to me, including the one six feet over my head and the one rolling on the ground across the plate. But I got my money’s worth; no one could take away my three swings. I think once I actually hit the ball but couldn’t remember what to do next.

But that’s the way baseball is supposed to be — a game. Some of the finest games ever played never made it into the sports pages or onto “Plays of the Day.” They were the ones across the road from my childhood home, in the front yard where Aunt Daisy Sanders lived. I’m sure she was somebody’s real aunt; she wasn’t mine biologically, but she belonged to the whole community that way.

After she slipped away and Reid Hill and his sisters Shirley and Linda moved in, we still used that ball field. Two big oak trees made a natural backstop. First base was the front porch steps; second was another tree sort of in line with home; third was a good-sized bush you didn’t want to slide into, not that I often was faced with that challenge.

The games went on and on. Usually we allowed four strikes; breaks were frequent; the ball was always in play unless it went into the road; and defense was what kept de cows in de pasture.

I’d like to play one more of those ... if we could find the same players, if my knees and back would let me, if life weren’t so busy and full, if ...

Somehow I think that would be more valuable than a leventy-million-dollar contract.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.

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