By BUDDY MARTIN
I am a football junkie who watches a half dozen college games a week during the season — plus maybe a couple a week in the NFL. As a daily host of a football-based talk radio show and an Internet columnist, watching football is my job. And I just happen to love it.
Lately I’ve been trying to find my way back to an old flame: Baseball, The Summer Game.
It has been my between-season diversion as I count it down to the college football kickoff, awaiting the blitz of impending Media Days next. And besides, the pace of summer goes with the pace of baseball.
Meanwhile, with the Summer Solstice upon us, I have found solace in flipping over to the Tampa Bay Rays and enjoying their above -.500 bid in the American League Wild Card race. Seems like I have this expansion team thing down, having been through it in Colorado with the Rockies, and then with what was first known as the Tampa Bay “Devil Rays.”
What I learned is that baseball is that it requires emotional involvement. A commitment watching baseball only really clicks when the team is organic. Without a team to pull for in your own town, baseball doesn’t always make it on your radar screen.
So when you college or university makes it Omaha for the College World Series, as Florida did this year, you get a dog in the hunt. And my dog hunted pretty well this time.
Do I miss football? Of course! When you watch upwards of 80-90 games every autumn/winter, how could you not? But baseball has given me pause to reflect on why I once crammed my young brain with so many box scores, batting averages and insignificant details of the game.
I was a Cardinal fan. It’s what motivated me as a boy to shimmy up an Australian pine tree with a piece of wire as a faux radio antenna so my dad’s Zenith console could reach all the way up to KMOX in St. Louis to pipe in the voice of Harry Caray broadcasting the Cardinal gamesk (Yes, Cardinal games.)
Simply a boy’s love for baseball.
As for being temporarily football-less the last few months, I’ve enjoyed the welcomed respite just a little. However, there is a different rhythm to baseball and as an acquired or re-acquired taste — like switching from beer to Scotch.
I am not a sabermetrics guy, but I realize the value. I am more aligned with my friends author-writers Woody Paige and Dave Kindred, an inveterate St. Louis Cardinal fan, and his romance with baseball.
Not unlike the guy who wrote that famous song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” Kindred still finds unmitigated joy in the game. “Give me a hot dog and a Coke and let me watch the game for two and a half hours,” he said. “And I’m a happy guy.”
“I still love baseball,” said Kindred, who admitted he hasn’t taken as many treks to the ballpark this season and didn’t even know how his Cardinals stood in the standings (below .500). “You have to get into the rhythm of it.”
Ever now and then, Paige makes it out to the ball yard in Denver. As he did when he wrote: ”The Rockies are playoff-worthy, but the playoff worry must be that the double Ds – the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks – are dogs chasing this runaway car. They won’t go away.”
In my coffee circle, or among my radio colleagues, we almost never mention the sport formerly known as the National Pastime anymore — unless it’s connected to the College World Series, or the Fall Classic in October. Most of us find baseball deadly dull in this fast-paced world. Not so much Kindred, who dredged up an old line from the great newspaper columnist Red Smith: “Baseball is dull to those people with dull minds.”
I am somewhere in the middle of all that, hoping to spark an old flame.
I harken back to the version of baseball as defined in those classic books, Summer Game by Roger Angell and Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn. And fantasy, like Shoeless Joe, the book by W. P. Kinsella from which the movie Field of Dreams was adapted. Paige passed on his copy and insisted I read it and Shoeless Joe became my favorite baseball movie under the pseudonym.
The movie “The Natural” captured the passion of the game. And as much as I adored the character Roy Hobbs, I’m not yet ready to invoke his famous line, “God, I love baseball.” But I do like baseball and I’m starting to appreciate the game again. If for no other purpose than it’s acting as a pacifier.
Sometimes these days when we yearn for simpler times, it often takes us back to our childhood when baseball was, indeed, the National Pastime — when we knew every player and his batting average or ERA and could probably recite the starting lineup of every team in both leagues. Today, most of us couldn’t remember all the franchises, let alone where they rank in the standings.
I see baseball as an anti-dote to the insanity coming out of Washington or the intrusion of local crime stories, emanating mostly from the metropolitan areas that surround my little city. Somehow watching baseball feels like a safe haven, if not a good soul cleansing.
And truthfully, if baseball slows us down, is that necessarily a bad thing?
You can just read so many fake-news football stories about what has been or what might be ahead without some kind of authentic competition as your compass. As Steve Spurrier calls them, “let’s play the real games.” At the moment, the only real ones are being played on a diamond.