I love baseball.
I almost wrote I still love baseball, but that's unnatural. That comes from a discussion I heard on sports radio this spring. The announcers were all giddy with anticipation, save the 20-something NBA reporter. He claimed most of his generation remained unbitten by the baseball bug, only interested in the NBA and NFL. I was first stunned, then saddened. I can't imagine growing up without baseball.
As a kid, that bug didn't just bite me, it swallowed me. I played in little league, and pickup games in the park. My friend Tony and I played fast pitch off the school wall; two mitts, one bat and a rubber ball were all you needed, all day. We imitated the batting stance of every major MLB star, and knew their batting averages. When it was raining, I even read about baseball, either fiction or history. Who didn't know Babe Ruth?
Back then, I wasn't adamant about rooting for the home team. I admired great players and great teams, not caring what city they were from. I saw pretty much all of them by watching the Cubs in the day and the White Sox at night. In 1975, I had two favorite teams: the Cincinnati Reds from the National League and the Boston Red Sox from the American.
The Big Red Machine from Cincinnati had Pete Rose, nicknamed Charlie Hustle and used as a positive example by every little league coach in America. No one ran to first base like Pete Rose; even on a routine, guaranteed-out grounder he ran as if chased by the hounds of hell. They had Johnny Bench, the home run hitting catcher and my favorite player. They had George Foster, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, and a young Ken Griffey (Sr.) They had two of my favorite names in baseball, center fielder Cesar Geronimo and manager Sparky Anderson. What a team.
The Red Sox caught my attention due to a pair of phenomenal rookies, Jim Rice and Fred Lynn. Any team is lucky to have a rookie make an impact strong enough to invite MVP debate, but that year, Boston had two. Baby-faced Lynn made some of the most spectacular catches I had ever seen, and Rice looked like a veteran from the start. Every kid with major league dreams admired them. They had a pitcher named Luis Tiant, with a fascinating delivery. Odd, yet deadly effective. They also had some colorful names like Bernie Carbo and Rico Petrocelli, which currently conjure images of pasta and meatballs (I'm on a diet.) Oh, and some guy named Carl Yastrzemski, nicknamed Yaz. Much easier to pronounce, let alone spell. What a team.
What a World Series!
Each team swept their opponent to get in, accelerating the collision course. Greatest world series of all time? Debatable, but to me no other series even comes close, due to my level of interest and fanaticism at the time. As an adult, there have been only two series that sparked such fervor. Neither were World Series; both were American League Championship Series. The first was the Red Sox coming back from a three-game deficit to beat the evil-empire Yankees in 2004, the second my beloved White Sox beating said Red Sox a year later. Both teams went on to win the World Series handily, neither series as gripping as the ALCS contests.
What came to be called Red October, the World Series between the Reds and Red Sox in 1975, was inarguably a classic. The series started at Fenway Park, and was scoreless through six in the first game. El Tiante had to bat for the first time the whole season, and hit a single to start the game-breaking bottom of seventh. Game one: Boston. In game two, the Reds came back in the ninth to win 3-2 before heading back to Cincy. Series tied, 1-1.
At Riverfront, the home team won the first of three by a score of 6-5. In game four, Tiant won his second complete game by a score of 5-4 to tie the series at 2-2. The Reds ended their home stand with a win thanks to Tony Perez, who had two home runs and four RBI's to break his hitless streak. Reds up, 3 games to 2.
Back at Fenway, the Red Sox faced elimination. Three days of rain delayed Game Six (yes it deserves capital letters), intensifying the drama. For those twenty somethings who never "got" baseball, all I can say is watch Carlton Fisk (what a name!) in the 12th inning, force game seven.
The Big Red Machine ended up winning it all. Some of you already knew that, some may have forgotten, and some consider it ancient history. Some simply don't care about baseball and never will. It's not important, and certainly none of my business, but I do feel bad for those in that last category.
It's like you're missing out on something; something good.
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