I have loved baseball since 1956. I fell in love with the Milwaukee Braves during the summer of 1957, in my eighth year. They were the underdog in the Fall Classic to the much ballyhooed New York Yankees. The Yanks were led by the greatest switch-hitter of all-time, Mickey Mantle; and the greatest post-season pitcher of all-time, Whitey Ford; and also by the ole’ philosopher, catcher Yogi Berra. And their venerable manager was Casey Stengel, who racking up one championship after another during that wonderful era. I still remember running home from school to see the World Series that October and sitting in awe watching the games live from New York’s famous Yankee Stadium. Lou Burdette was lights out in winning the MVP as the Braves won the series in seven games.
Last night, in my fifty-seventh year, I finally saw a game, in person, in venerable Yankee Stadium, built in 1923. The Yanks beat the Rangers 4-3. I sat on row one, in upper deck, right behind home plate. My companion, Jonathan McGuire, is a wonderful young man who is the pastoral intern at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Rye, New York. He served me with real joy and took me into the Bronx by car. (Jonathan’s dad is Dr. Jimmy McGuire, the pastor at Ward Presbyterian Church in suburban Detroit, and a prince of a true friend. I wrote about Jimmy last October.) The evening was pleasant, with shirt sleeve temperatures. The “house that Ruth built” was almost sold out and the crowd was a rowdy New York one all the way. They boo and they cheer, sometimes the same player within minutes. Parking only cost $13.00, which is $5.00 less than at U. S. Cellular Field in Chicago where I frequently see games. The hot dogs did not compare to Chicago’s famous franks but they were only $5.00, a steal by New York standards I guess. Beer, however, was greatly overpriced at $8.50 a pop. But this all begs the point. I was at Yankee Stadium. (I have now seen a game in 24 of 30 parks for current big league teams. This does not include ten more of the old parks now torn down from an earlier era!)
But Yankee Stadium is the place. Monument Park, where Yankee greats are immortalized, was impressive and moving. The flags flew in a gentle breeze. The public address announcer is a legend and the entire night was filled with immense joy. Finally, I was there, at the greatest place on earth for baseball. I was almost converted, for a brief moment, but I just couldn’t bring myself, even by the power of this magical evening, to become a Yankees fan. The childhood memories of their dominance were too real. The scars are too deep I guess. (The Yankees beat the Braves in 1958 and I cried! I will not tell you what I did when they beat them in 1996 and 1998!) Furthermore, I must persevere for the Braves as they are once again hot and just might do it this year. (Please do not post a comment about them being losers, which is utterly silly, or I might have serious problems forgiving you!) As I told Braves friends three weeks ago, when it appeared the Braves were toast this year, Bobby Cox still sits in their dugout. Don’t lose the faith just yet.
I relaxed last evening. I didn’t think about a real problem for six hours. Oh baseball, what a way to enjoy being alive in the summertime in this great land of the free. It is the greatest of America’s games with all this great tradition. I feel sad for you if you do not know the joy of this greatest of sports. For starters go to your public library and check out the Ken Burn’s video series on the history of baseball and you will get a great education if nothing else. Then start singing "Take me out to the ball game, buy me some peanuts . . . ." and then do get out to a game near you. You will thank me I am sure.
By the way, my eight-year-old granddaughter keeps a good scorecard. Four generations of Armstrongs now have the game in their blood, the torch is passed, and the tradition goes on. "Play ball!"