My granddaughter’s fast pitch softball team won their regular season last week with a record of 12 and 2. They lost the playoff championship in a hard fought match with the regular season runner up. These spring games are the most fun we’ve had since we’ve retired, and the girls leagues in four different age brackets are very well run, supported and coached. The four fields are things of beauty, exquisitely maintained, with well placed bleachers, night lights, an announcer’s booth and electronic scoreboards and a quality P.A. system. We even have our own legendary announcer whose banter with the girls is a huge part of the fun. He gives the girls nicknames, has them all kneel whenever there’s an injury, and in general makes you feel like you are watching a real minor league game. There are four age groups spanning from a very young four years up to nineteen. The interest is high enough to field over two dozen teams with full rosters.
When we first started attending our granddaughter’s games two years ago, I suppose we had low expectations and looked forward to amusing shenanigans. We learned very quickly that in fact the girls were learning some serious baseball, being taught by former NCAA collegiate players in the fine arts of base running, fielding and batting. By the end of the first season these youngsters knew where the play went depending on the runners on base. And I was being swept up in a tidal wave of nostalgia, as we cheered on the girls until I was hoarse. Come ride the wave with me below the orange mitt laces.
Standing for the national anthem at a baseball game is not an implicit support for the war on terror or for covert rendition of detainees. It is a part of what makes baseball the quintessential American experience. All of our girls stand lined up on the baselines facing the outfield flag, we stand with our hats over our hearts, and I am whisked back to Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium in 1956. There, in the cavernous iron arena I saw baseball legends on a weekly basis that I can scarcely believe in hindsight. Bob Feller, Bobby Avila, Roger Maris and Micky Mantle, Vic Wertz (yes, that Vic Wertz, the one whose hit to deep center field was robbed by Willie Mays in his iconic over the shoulder catch- that was Game 1 of the 1954 World Series in New York, and no, I was not there for that one), Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Larry Doby,and even Satchel Paige at an old timers game, though he still played in the majors until around 1965; so many greats during what many refer to as the Golden Age of baseball. During those years Cleveland regularly filled the stadium with 84,000 plus screaming fans (cold beer heah!) and as a kid I of course brought my glove in hopes of catching a foul ball off of Al Rosen.
By 1960 I was attending a school where Bob Feller’s son was two years behind me. That year my dad died of lung cancer. Each spring we had a fathers and sons softball game, and that year Mr. Feller went out of his way to include me in that game, and I got to bat against him. All of the class did. Memory fails me here, but most likely I stood awestruck and struck out. In the years that followed I was frequently a guest at the Feller house where some of my friends and I hung with his son, who was interested in recording technology and had a home built studio. His dad was often there, but he was always Mr. Feller to me. His decency as a businessman and a human being was well testified to.
I do distinctly remember attending the last home game he pitched in September of 1956, with an 8-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers, when my dad was still living. In our household my dad and grandfather often talked baseball, and when Grampa would proclaim that the Indians slaughtered the Yankees, I remember wondering if the plains wars were still going on out west. I never thought that I’d ever be that innocent again, but I’ve come pretty darn close.
When our girls file into the dugout prior to the start of the game, they now all look like celebrities to me. We have at least ten years left to watch our granddaughter work her way up to the last year of the oldest age bracket, and I’m guessing we’ll continue to watch the up and coming players after she’s gone on to college, assuming that’s her chosen life trajectory. In the meantime, we get to watch these young girls improve with every game. There’s a grounder to the shortstop, who scoops it up and smoothly makes the throw to first for the out, a throw that I sincerely doubt I could make today.