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Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Posted: Oct 26, 2007

Wednesday night’s opening game of the 2007 World Series at Fenway Park was a heartbreaker for Colorado Rockies fans. I have always had a soft spot for the Boston Red Sox, and I love Fenway Park, but I have to admit I was pulling for the Rockies as they faced off against the awesome Red Sox on their own home turf.

The Rockies are a Cinderella team, relative newcomers to major league baseball, who have skyrocketed to play in the current World Series at the tender age of fourteen. The players are almost as young as the team. On opening night twenty-six year old pitcher Jeff Francis and twenty-one year old pitcher Franklin Morales found themselves pitted against veteran hitters like thirty-five year old Manny Ramirez and thirty-one year old David Ortiz. Furthermore, there was the “invincible” (a baseball commentator’s own words) Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, who consistently fires nearly 100 mph balls across the plate, to contend with. To quote from the front page of this week’s Sports Illustrated: “ The Rockies Have Magic/ The Sox Have Beckett.”

Last night was a whole new ball game. Seasoned pitchers-- Matt  Herges for the Rockies and Curt Schilling for the Sox-- proved that age and experience rule. Still the evening was a quiet one with a final score of 2-1 Sox—lots of walks, one stolen base (America gets a Taco Bell taco, thanks to Jacoby Ellsbury), and fruit basket turnover for the pitching roster. Still, a win is a win, and the Sox will head to Colorado leading the series by two games.

It may be a short world series, but I, for one, hope that the Rockies will give the seasoned Sox a run for their money when the teams move to Denver for game three. I may love Fenway Park (which is celebrating its 95th birthday this year), but it is a challenging ballpark to play in under the best of circumstances, and it is even more daunting when the field is soaked and the rain continues to fall. (photo courtesy of Kim Knox, 2000).

When Alabama’s own Leroy “Satchel” Paige first set foot in Fenway he is reported to have said, "Huuuueee! This place is a pitchers' cemetery." The park is especially unfriendly to left-handed pitchers, as Jeff Francis quickly learned in game one. 

The balk called on Jeff Francis Wednesday night reminded me of the famous “hesitation pitch” used by my hero, Satchel Paige. Paige was the first African-American pitcher in the American league and the seventh player to integrate major league baseball, being signed by the Cleveland Indians one year after Jackie Robinson was signed by the Dodgers. American League President Will Harridge eventually ruled that the hesitation pitch was definitely illegal and declared that if it was thrown again it would result in a balk.

Satchel Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama, in either 1905 or 1906 (“Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”), and he had the longest career in baseball, beginning in the mid nineteen twenties and lasting until 1965. In 1969 the owner of the Atlanta Braves signed Paige to a one season contract as a pitching coach, but the signing was actually a move to raise interest in the team and to help Paige out with his pension requirements. In the early 1940’s, Paige was the highest paid professional athlete, but he had a hard time holding on to his money.

Two of my favorite books are Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever by Satchel Paige (as told to David Lipman, 1962) and a collection of the sayings of Satchel Paige, Satchel Sez, by David Sterry. I take Paige’s wisdom to heart: “Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.” He also had a saying that both Jeff Francis and Jeremy Affeldt may have had in mind this week, “If a man can beat you, walk him.”

An avid baseball fan and my longtime friend, Birmingham poet Charles Ghigna, claims to still be waiting to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates for whom he once tried out. When I told Ghigna that I planned to feature him on Swampland (watch for more by and about Ghigna under Discourse as well as Conversations), he sent me a couple of his baseball poems. Here is one I found particularly compelling. It is called “Baseball Dreams” and is published in A Fury of Motion: Poems for Boys (Boyd Mills Press, 2003).

Read Baseball Dreams by Charles Ghigna

---Penne J. Laubenthal

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