by Michael Ryerson
When we smell the hotdogs and hear the crack of the bat, we’re young men again. Baseball is truly our game. Barry Bonds doesn’t own the game, he’s a peripheral character in a very long story. And frankly, I don’t much like the current crop of pro athletes either. Maybe it’s just old age creeping in and maybe every generation feels this way about the younger kids who inherit a going concern and don’t treat it with reverence, whether its a family farm or store or factory or it’s a game that has such wide appeal that men can actually be paid to play it so the rest of us can watch and dream about it’s exquisite symmetry. I still marvel at the physical gifts with which these young men are blessed but mostly they don’t seem like men with whom I’d like to spend time. We generally set up our ‘field’ half on our front yards and half out into the street (the curb posed a special set of problems). We lived pretty far out in the country and just a half block north of our house, our street was actually a dirt road so there wasn’t much traffic. It wasn’t ideal but it served its purpose. Later we started riding our bikes down to the park which was five miles one way. We could usually find a ‘pick-up’ game at the park but it was a long ways away and it made my mother nervous (she didn’t drive) when we didn’t get back until near dark. My father still had many connections to baseball and we were able to go often. In the beginning it was the Pacific Coast League games, either at Gilmore Field (Hollywood Stars, Brooklyn Dodgers affiliate) or little Wrigley Field in south Los Angeles (Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs affiliate) and later, we went to many Dodgers games. I saw Roberto Clemente many times. He may have been the best I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen him make the throw to third base unerringly and I’ve seen him intimidate a runner back to second just by coming up with the ball and glaring at him. He was a great ball player and he may have been a better man. I also saw Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and Musial and Aaron and Gibson and Frank Robinson and Mays. I saw Jackie Robinson in person more than once although I never saw him play. I met Roy Campanella (in his wheelchair) and had my picture taken with him and Junior Gilliam. I have a Brooklyn Dodgers warm-up jacket (replica, gift from my mother-in-law) that I wear once a year and I have a cap from the old Hollywood Stars that I sometimes wear down here to an Astros game and because it has an ‘H’ inside a star on the front everybody thinks its a really old Astros hat! I’ve seen ‘Sandlot’ a couple of times, it was a perfect movie for my son at a certain age (and I secretly liked it, too) and I like ‘The Natural’, ‘Bull Durham’ and ‘Bang the Drum Slowly.’ I’m a sucker for baseball. My first glove was a hand-me-down and my second and my third, too. When I finally got my own new glove, my father helped me rub it with oil and saddle soap and wrap it tightly around a ball. I kept it under my matress even though it made a godawful lump. Anytime someone shows me their mitt, I can’t help but put it up to my nose and smell it. It doesn’t matter whose it is or where its been, they all smell like baseball. I like to go early enough to see batting practice and I mourn the loss of the double header. I’ve sat in the bleachers and the boxes. They’re all good seats.