Season's come and go. We brave cold weather in the Winter, we marvel at the color change in foliage during the Fall, we embrace the first days of Spring. When Summer comes we rejoice with jubilation every "Lazy Afternoon" (to quote the Legendary Roots Crew). Those muggy, sweaty months are the light at the end of Winter's dark and windy tunnel. For many, the first glimpse of Spring and more importantly Summer occurs on one day, summed up in one sentence: "Pitcher and Catchers Report."
It's marks the start of another long 162 game regular season, when many fans hope to watch their team into Autumn. Pitchers jostle for position, while position players hope to make the 25 man roster. The buzz is usually pretty low, and baseball fans hold onto this time as their little dark secret, passing on tidbits of info like; "He's throwing real well", or "He is tearing the cover off the ball, I think he has a shot".
In the midst of the start to the final stretch of the NBA, and NHL seasons, while the excitement of March Madness begins to beat its drum; baseball fans focus secretly on what's going on in Florida and Arizona. All of us smiling on the inside thinking to ourselves, "It's good to have baseball back."
Throngs of folks head to muggy Arizona and Florida, to watch their team practice. I'm talking about practice. Few sports draw such crowds for the first day of practice. What could be the reason for this? Nice weather and golf? No. The people come out because baseball unlike any other sport -- Baseball becomes part of life, during the regular season. It isn't played once a week on a Sunday, it isn't played every two to three days like the NBA or NHL. Each team plays just about every day, from April to September.
It helps the boys and girls get through the end of the academic year to summer break, it helps the adults get to weekend vacations. And it propels all of us through the summer months. It is nearly impossible to escape Baseball during the season. Baseball is heard on radios from the streets of Toronto to the back roads of Venezuela, in your cabs, and the car next to you in traffic. Baseball is on TV at 5 a.m in Japan, and in jump-ups in Curacao. Walk by a bar during any month during the season, and even if it's the Stanley Cup, NBA Finals, or the first day of the NFL season -- I promise, a baseball game will be on at least one TV. It still is the American past-time, because we live with baseball. We don't watch baseball, it transcends time and we invite it into our lives, our homes, until it becomes part of our family.
Baseball becomes the background noise to the soundtracks of our summers. Each city, each fan, feels a kinship to their broadcasters, because we listen to them talk for hours day in and day out. Michael Kay, John Sterling, Ken Singleton, Suzyn Waldman, Jim Kaat, Al Trautwig, Tim McCarver, David Cone, David Justice, Paul O'Neill, Joe Girardi, Rick Cerone, Tino Martinez, Al Leiter, John Flarity and every broadcaster that has entered my home, thank you. You have spoken the poetry of baseball with beauty, simplicity and elegance. The amazing late Bobby Murcer, and of course the late Hall of Famer Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto, you are both the Mel Allen of my Baseball memories. "Holy Cow-how about that."
Every baseball fan, has a list just as long as mine. Names like Harry Caray, Vin Scully, Jon Miller, Jack Brickhouse, Bob Uecker, Ernie Harwell, Red Barber, Jack Buck, Curt Gowdy, Dave Niehaus, and the late Harry Kalas just to name a fraction of the greats, have narrated summers to generations of fans. Their expressions have become our colloquialisms. Their stories over the years used for fillers become tales we tell to other Baseball fans. We begin to anticipate what they will say, or how they will handle a call. Growing up as a Yankee fan, I knew Phil Rizzutto would take off mid-broadcast if there was bad lighting and thunder. We cherish their quirks, their habits. Their voices are the narrators of our memories. But, that's just a part of why we love baseball.
We love baseball because we live everyday with our team. We grind through slumps with our hitters, feel the agony of errors, argue balls and strikes, and labor pitch after pitch. We identify with players over the course of the season, root for the new kid, and say goodbye to the old veterans who were once our heroes. We understand the beauty in pitching inside, brushing back the hitter, only to set him up the next time he comes up with the backdoor cutter. A beautifully executed bunt/suicide squeeze makes us happier than a home-run. We understand the difference between a 6-4-3, and a 5-4-3 double play, and we appreciate it every time. We second guess our managers to a fault, and question why they didn't stretch the starter another inning or batter, or why didn't he go to the bullpen earlier. It can be such a slow, and boring game for many, but to all of us, it is one of the most beautiful displays of strategy and gamesmanship. We would rather a pitcher duel than a game filled with home-runs.
We still feel the hair raise on our arms every time we walk through the dark tunnels of a stadium before coming out onto the field. The moment the threshold is passed, the chatter from the tunnel turns into an echo, and the smell of grass and flash of light hits the body like a resuscitating breath. The smells and sounds of the game intoxicate us. We know any day has limitless potential to turn into a Summer classic. Every pitch may connect us to part of Baseball lore spanning the generations of fans. Our excitement is uncontrollable. The game is played outside, during the best time of year. The nature of the game allows you to talk to your friend, or neighbor without worrying about missing the game, while enjoying another beautiful day. Unlike most other sports, baseball has no time limit. Nine innings can last a lifetime. But, on a beautiful summer day, we all hope it will last forever.