We're talkin' baseball!
The Man and Bobby Feller.
The Scooter, the Barber, and the Newc,
They knew 'em all from Boston to Dubuque.
Especially Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.
I was watching ESPN the other day and couldn’t help but notice that spring training games have begun in earnest…
When I was growing up the sport of baseball was the shit for me. I loved putting on my uniform and hearing the click/clack of the spikes against the cement. This was long before the days of rubber cleats and the noise they made as you walked along the dugout almost made you think you were ready for the pros’. I loved taking my baseball glove out of hibernation and oiling it down to release the stiffness that had accumulated over the winter months. I loved the smell of the green grass and the sound of the crack of the ball against a wooden bat, not the “dink” that you hear today. I loved sliding in the dirt on a close play or whipping the ball around the infield after your pitcher got somebody to whiff.
I played for about six or seven years in something known as the Police Athletic League (PAL) in Brooklyn. Every season started with a parade of all the teams for the season opener through the streets of the neighborhood. Along the way you’d see parents, friends and neighbors waving to each other and then we’d wind up at someplace known as Dyker Park. They had six diamonds and the games went on all afternoon. For the rest of the season, I’d have to take about a 45 minute bus ride to get to the field. I loved every fuckin’ moment of that ride.
After your game was over you could either watch another one or go watch the local Italians curse at each over a fierce game of bocce. For us youngen’s there were pizza joints, hot dog stands and ice cream parlors all within walking distance. For the elders, there was a bar that abutted the local golf course called “The 19th Hole”. Rumor had it that it was run by some folks with some sketchy connections but that didn’t stop many folks from dropping in for one or two after the game.
The results of each game were published in the local weekly newspaper and if you did something of note you got a mention. If I dig down in my basement I believe I’ve still got some faded newspaper clippings that, if only for a day or two, immortalized my feats on the field.
If you look at the opening lines of this write up you’ll notice that all of the names in the song spent most, if not all of their entire careers associated with one team. I think that’s how I as kid got to know my baseball heroes. I don’t know if there was something loyal about them or if the owners had them by the balls but then again as a kid I never wanted to grow up to be an owner. Today, I can only name a few players who played with same team for more than a year or two. To me, something gets lost in translation when players jump from team to team. The team itself has no identity and even after winning is often broken up and sold for pieces.
I’m not old enough to actually remember the days of “Willie, Mickey and The Duke” in New York City but I gotta believe it was something special. To have three of the most talented players in the league all in one city and all playing the same position must have led to some great bar arguments.
The Duke passed away just other the day and I’m sure he took an old piece of Brooklyn with him. Mickey has been gone for awhile and that leaves only Willie Mays left to preserve the legacy of baseball in New York during the 50’s.
I know it’s inevitable because time marches on but sometimes I just long to have a piece of the past to hold on to.
Selected excerpts from “Talkin’ Baseball by Terry Cashman and copyright 1981, 1983, 1988, 1992, 1996 PKM Music