A Perfect Day for Baseball - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
A Perfect Day for Baseball
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Wednesday was a perfect day for baseball in Tampa, with temperatures in the low eighties, about as warm as it will be in Yankee Stadium until the All-Star break. A nice breeze kept the celebrants comfortable and kept the championship flags above George M. Steinbrenner Field snapping.

The game itself was unremarkable. The Phillies beat the Yankees 3-1 in regulation, putting the thing through in slightly more than two and a half hours. The game featured a couple of authentic 11 o’clock highlight plays and only one error. No one went long. Taken all around, not bad for a spring opener. The congregation of 9,673, including me, was just glad that baseball is back, even though the events of this game are largely already forgotten.

Those in attendance trended heavily toward fuggedaboudits in Yankee gear, eager to see the new iteration of the Evil Empire’s team (not so evil of late, after two straight seasons for not even making the playoffs). They were also there to boo A-Rhoid. Alex, Wednesday’s DH, was playing in his first game after his most recent suspension, this one a year and change.

Rodriguez received a smattering of cheers but more lusty boos when the lineups were announced and when he came to bat. There were more boos and some malicious laughter when Alex swung at and missed the first two pitches he saw in his first time up, evidencing a bit of ring rust from his long time on the porch. But the boo-birds had to stow it for a bit when Alex roped the third pitch to left for a single. He grounded out and walked in his next two ABs and was then gone from the game when the guys wearing tight-end and defensive tackle uniform numbers entered the game after the 7th inning stretch (when, as is traditional, attendees stand and sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which strikes me as odd because they’re already there).

My enjoyment of the game was increased by being seated next to three cheerful, voluble, and baseball-savvy guys from Philadelphia, in town for some baseball, and, from the look of it, for hot dogs, beer, and really big pretzels smeared with mustard. (Their waistlines would suggest they are no strangers to these delights.) These guys were aware that this year’s Phillies team is, to put it politely, rebuilding. But they didn’t allow this melancholy truth to spoil their enjoyment of the day or of the proceedings. Baseball stories and baseball names, old and new, flowed along with the beer. (I’ll hold my hand up for one beer and one hot dog — but at $14.50 for the pair, I wasn’t inclined toward a second round.)

I had to ask the Philadelphia guys if the rumors that Phillies fans were the toughest in sports were really true. Would they really boo your kid at an Easter egg hunt? Nah, they said, loyal to their city. Those stories are exaggerated, they agreed. “We wouldn’t boo a kid at an Easter egg hunt,” one of them told me. “Unless the dumb kid walked past one in plain sight.”

My new best friends and I agreed that for all the depredations the game has suffered in recent years, there are some good things about today’ spring games versus spring games back in the day. One is that players report to camp in shape, and not 20 or more pounds overweight after a winter of working in the hardware store and surviving on pizza and beer, as was the custom in previous days. This allowed me to tell my favorite Yogi story, concerning a spring when he reported with a little more front-footage than he would carry in the regular season and asked the clubhouse guy to give him three hats, size 7 ¾. “But, Yogi, you know you wear 7 5/8,” the clubhouse guy said. “Yea, but I ain’t in shape yet,” Yogi informed him.

The guys may have heard this golden oldie many times, but they were kind enough to laugh anyway. One of them countered with a story of Dave Parker, a good hitter and a fine outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates of the seventies. A big man, Dave was no slave to conditioning and usually ballooned up in the off-season and used late February and March to shed the weight. The Pirates had several uniforms back then, including one that was bright yellow with black lettering. When Pirate slugger Willie Stargell saw the out-sized Parker for the first time in the yellow uniform, he said, “#$&!, David, you look like a school bus.”

The outfield fence advertising is classier these days than I remember from my early baseball days — a few ads for banks, a cable TV outfit, a private college, and the odd restaurant. Not a single ad for a bail bondsman, or for a used car dealer named Lucky Eddie.

One thing not so good about spring baseball nowadays is the price. Mine came with the unlikely price of $29, quite a lot for games that are essentially baseball conditioning drills with umpires. But it’s nice to have the Grand Old Game back. Its forms are pleasing, even if the action on the field isn’t for real. This reason, though, would not have impressed the 60ish woman seated in front of one of the Philadelphia guys. She spent the first 7 innings reading a romance novel, and the final two playing with her smart phone. She could have done this at home, or at the motel room, for nothing. But perhaps her husband, a fuggedaboutit in Yankee gear, wanted her there. The non-literary highlight of her game was when the Philadelphia guy behind her accidently spilled a little beer on the sleeve of her tee-shirt. He was very apologetic and attempted to wipe the beer off with his handkerchief. She seemed only annoyed at momentarily losing the plot in her bodice ripper.

It was an afternoon well spent. Once again baseball promises to save my summer, even though the prospects of the local Tampa Bay Rays are even less promising than those of the Phillies. I’ll make a few pilgrimages to the park, but mostly I’ll be in the upright and locked position on my office couch in front of the tube. The Cubs and the Red Sox could be interesting this year. One is entitled to wonder the Giants will remain, well, Giants. Or will the Dodgers succeed in finally buying a championship?

It will be a few more weeks before baseball fans can get to these interesting questions. Lots of spring games left to get through, mainly in order to get pitchers’ arms in shape. April is not the cruelest month for baseball fans. But March is surely the longest. The players may not be ready for the regular season. But I am.

Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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