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The American Game

By: Bill Law

Stop!!! Don't read another word unless you are willing to spend 5 minutes with me, hearing about my lifelong obsession with a game.

Where do I begin? My love of the game of baseball comes from my childhood, a time when it was considered a bit unmanly to spend time with your children. Children were the work of women then, with the one exception being sports. My father passed his love for baseball on to me. I lived in New Hampshire but the city of Boston held my dream teams; the Boston Red Sox of the American League and the Boston Braves of the National League. Two big league teams in the same town were not unusual then. Boston, New York, and Chicago all had a team from each of the two major leagues inside their city limits. Such was the importance of baseball.

In mentioning my father and his love of the game, I believe I touch a cord many will identify with. Baseball may touch that child in all men who refuses to completely grow up. I remember my father making up a game with dice which helped explain the game of baseball. Each combination of numbers indicated a different play on the field. By the age of 6, I had mastered the basics of the game.

In the summer of my eighth year, my dad took me to my first big league game. It was a warm day in the magical year of 1936. Perhaps it was only the magic of being eight but I remember it as if it were yesterday. I remember walking into Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox. I remember the huge expanse of the place. I had never seen anything so large. To this day, Fenway Park in Boston remains the oldest, unrenovated ballpark in America. I remember the green grass, the left field fence. I do not remember who the Red Sox's were playing that day, but I do remember being with my father. When I walked into that ballpark, I fell in love. All my interest and involvement in the game began right there.

America has three principal big time sports; baseball, football and basketball. Of these, only baseball has existed for the entire 20th century as a major sport. The other sports did not come into their own until after World War II. Professional baseball was primarily located in the northeastern quadrant of the United States. Every major city had a team. Why did it develop in the northeast? Simple, that is where most of the population lived before World War II, plus teams traveled to games on the train. As population centers moved and airplane travel became common, baseball truly became a national game.

New Ways to Look at Baseball

I am frequently told that baseball is slow. This comment speaks more of our hurry up culture than of the game itself. It is true that baseball is not controlled by a clock but that is one of its real charms. Rain may call a game and darkness may postpone a game, but time can not stop a game. How many things in life can we say that about? You can not win a baseball game by stalling as you can in basketball and football. Many a game has been won in the 9th inning with two outs. There is always hope until the players have left the field.

For those of you who only watch the occasional game on TV, I need to tell you that you are not enjoying the game at its fullest. To truly understand and therefore enjoy baseball you don't watch it, you follow it. You pay attention to what each player is doing. While baseball is a team sport it is played by individuals whose salaries and futures are tied to their individual performance. An example of this would be Ted Williams who is one of the most honored members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Ted was a superstar, no question about it, but while he played for the Boston Red Sox, the team never won a World Series. Countless other heroes in The Hall of Fame also never played in a World Series. Individuality in a team sport seems to be part of the American idea. Yes, we work together, toward a single goal, but we also feel free to be great individually. Great teams and great individuals will be noticed and rewarded. That goes from the assembly line to the playing fields.

Each spring, every team is tied for first place. Each year brings a fresh new history to be written. Only sports offer us that opportunity.

Some Reasons I Love the Game

  1. Baseball is played virtually every day. It is played during the week, at night, on weekends.
  2. What other sport gives you the double header where you get two games for the price of one.
  3. Any normal human being can play baseball. You don't have to be 7 foot tall like in basketball, or weigh three hundred pounds as in football. You just need great eye hand coordination, something you are born with, but you can also be taught. “Keep your eye on the ball” is a phrase every kid has heard from a parent or a coach.
  4. I find it interesting that baseball is the only sport I know of where the defense controls the ball. Imagine how different the game would be if pitchers pitched to their own team.
  5. Baseball has a record for everything. If you want to know how many times a certain pitcher won rain delayed games, it can be found. Or, how many times a runner got thrown out at third base. Nothing slips by the record keepers.
  6. Baseball is played mostly in the summertime, mostly on real grass, and is played mostly out of doors.
  7. It is still America's pastime to the extent that I think it is fair to say that more fathers and mothers pass on to their sons and daughters the elementary rules of the game; those being 9 innings per game, 3 outs per inning per side.
  8. It is often the first team sport children participate in, many beginning as young as 6 years old.

I am the first to admit that baseball is suffering from competitive imbalance due to money. No salary caps in baseball. Each team can buy what they can afford. It is still less expensive for family outings to a baseball field then most other sports. The Big Leagues are in the Metropolitan Areas and a ticket can be costly, but unlike the other American sports; five layers of baseball exist below the major leagues. From lowest to closest to the major leagues they are Rookie, Low A, High A, AA, AAA. These Minor Leagues work closely with the Major League teams to tryout new talent and develop it. These teams give many families an opportunity to view baseball in a real baseball park at a greatly reduced ticket price. 6 year olds can still fall in love. Recently, a movement has started in what they call Independent Leagues which hark back to pre World War II America. In the 30's every little town especially in the south had a team. These locally owned teams are beginning to appear again.

I have great faith in the future of baseball. While I moved away from New England in 1956 the teams of my youth remain my favorites. Even though the Boston Braves have played in both Milwaukee and now play as the Atlanta Braves, they remain my National League favorite. Of course, the Boston Red Sox are still where I first saw them play, Fenway Park. They are my favorite American League Team. While the Braves and Red Sox came close to playing in the 1948 World Series, I have never had to test my loyalty by choosing between them. Who knows what the future may hold. Hope springs eternal and it is April.

Post Script

While I never lost interest in following the game it became less of a priority through the family years. I was fortunate enough to retire to the game I loved. I never dreamed my wildest dreams would come true. The Durham Bulls an AAA minor league team located in my home area of Raleigh, North Carolina had long been my nearest team. I was a season ticket holder. The management of the Bulls knew of my lifelong love and knowledge of the game. They offered me the opportunity to work with promotional projects. When the Bulls opened their new park in 1995, I was asked to be the public address announcer. I have not missed a game in the new park. So, if you come to a Durham Bulls game, mine is the voice of the park. I can not imagine a more ideal retirement position. I said at the beginning that it all stems from my father. During one of my last conversations with my father he told me that I had taken his love of the game to the next level. I believe that was his way of saying he was proud of me. He followed the game very closely right through the summer he passed away at 98. There is no real reason to believe that I would have found a lifelong love of the game without his introduction to the game. He passed his love of baseball to me. Living in Manchester, NH it was a 60 mile trip to the Boston ballparks. These trips were what I lived for. I can still remember every one of them.

My advice to you, Be a Fan!!! The fantasy world of “maybe this year” is good for you. The game isn't everything the side issues of any sport are a year round undertaking. Baseball lends itself to the talk, the speculation, the ‘what if.’ I have been blessed. When someone asks me what I would be doing if I weren't doing this, I simply have no answer.

About the Author

Bill Law has lived in Raleigh, North Carolina since 1956. He spent his working life in State Administration for the state of North Carolina and has served on the Raleigh City Council. He is married and the father of two sons and one daughter and a grandfather to 9. In the spring and summer he can be heard almost nightly at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, North Carolina. He and his wife Retta were both extras in BULL DURHAM the movie.

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