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Baseball and spring go together like Koufax and no-hitters

April 4, 2014
Bob Madison - Chronicle Sports , Shepherdstown Chronicle

Former team owner Bill Veeck had it right when he said, "There are only two seasons: baseball and winter."

Veeck would prop his wooden leg up on a kitchen table and move seamlessly into a one-sided conversation about the saintly qualities of baseball. His ownership of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox were remembered for filling cavernous Municipal Stadium by Lake Erie with 80,000 fans, bringing Larry Doby and Satchel Paige to the American League and once using a midget, Eddie Gaedel, as a pinch hitter for the forlorn Browns.

Baseball comes when winter finally leaves. It can be associated with getting back outside, away from being cooped up in our defensive stance against winter's chafing winds and the non-stop visits by snow and near-zero temperatures.

Warmer days. Relief assured by the sun and afternoons where the thudding of fastballs into catcher's mitts is harmony made without singing or music.

Green grass. Blue skies. The unmistakable odor of apple blossoms, forsythia and hot dogs turning on a concession stand grill. The "Smells of Spring" come just ahead of the "Boys of Summer". And the sounds of baseball/spring are just as welcomed as the sounds of hamburgers sizzling away on the outdoor patio.

When we were children, backyard baseball in the warmth brings fond memories of a time when life's fast pace hadn't become a dictator in our life. You could play until dark. Or until you lost the brown-colored baseball in the weeds. It was fun without the need to keep score, know the infield fly rule or every fundamental of hitting a whiffle ball.

You were running and playing as if you would never grow up and be told the need of becoming responsible.

And, finally, spring is back. Even the songbirds are back. They bring us comfort as they welcome spring back to the land, going about their daily chores with a whistle while they work.

When we were much younger, major league baseball was a rite of spring and much easier to cipher than multiplication tables, gerunds and any equations from chemistry.

There were only 16 teams in the big leagues. No city west of St. Louis had a team. In fact, five cities had more than one team.

The Dodgers, Giants and Yankees were in New York. Philadelphia had the Phillies and Athletics, and Boston had the Red Sox and Braves. The White Sox and Cubs were Chicago's claim to fame. Even St. Louis had the Cardinals and Browns, and both played home games in the same stadium.

Those five cities had 11 of the 16 franchises, leaving Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Cincinnati and Cleveland as the only other towns where major league baseball could be seen firsthand.

Years ago it was an easy and wanted task to keep up with the players on each team. There was no free agency to spring the athletes from their "bondage" under owner Clark Griffith in Washington or P.K. Wrigley of the Cubs.

Some teams even had scorecards with the batting order already imprinted on them. In Washington, a 15-cent scorecard had the Senators' lineup that read: Eddie Yost, third base; Pete Runnels, second base; Mickey Vernon, first base; Jim Lemon, left field; Roy Sievers, right field; Gil Coan, center field; Ed Fitzgerald, catcher; and Jose Valdivielso, shortstop. The pitcher's spot was open for Bob Porterfield, Pete Ramos, Camilo Pascual, Chuck Stobbs or Early "Gus" Wynn.

Washington was indeed "First in War, First in Peace and Last in the American League."

It's always been an unsolved riddle, but the most comfortable riddle in all of history. "Which is more welcome, baseball or spring?"

Every person has an opinion about each player, each team and each pennant race. No sport has as many experts as does baseball. Three strikes. Three outs. No time limit. Always 27 outs unless a thunderstorm comes through.

Sitting under a shade tree in a folding chair debating the value of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig against Ted Williams and Hank Aaron.

Who was the better pitcher, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson or Warren Spahn?

The outcomes of the friendly debates matter little . . . because it is finally spring and we are once again gifted by baseball.

 
 
 

 

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