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Baseball: That outdoor memory maker

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | Feb 19, 2021

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Grass is still wearing its dull winter coloring.

Where the sun shines with a warming smile in a place like Kissimmee, Fla., Tempe, Ariz. or Sarasota, Fla.

The aromatic smells of sizzling hot dogs, freshly popped corn and bratwurst are still just memories from the 2019 baseball season.

But with the Major Leagues getting their players limbered up all over Florida and in Cactus League camps in Arizona, baseball is making its return to many standing ovations across the country.

Adults and children of all ages can’t wait for the sport to bring them back to the outdoors, where swaying palm trees outline the fences in Florida and emerald green infield grass dominates the eye at the training oases in Arizona. All of the reminders of youth are brought to the mind’s surface, with thoughts of baseball. Carefree, limitless freedom where time is no impediment, and the sun calls the tune. Some kids started acquiring grass-stained knees when they hadn’t even mastered the ABCs of the alphabet. They slugged lopsided, tar-taped balls with bats that had been broken so many times that the nails outnumbered the number of players being circled by neighborhood dogs.

The pick-up games had their own rules. The camaraderie outweighed the limited performances. The fields were dotted with clumps of grass, and broken sticks of wood were used for bases.

A little later on came Little League, Pony League, Babe Ruth League and teams where uniforms could be dirtied by hook slides, dives for ground balls escaping the infield or resin bags on the pitcher’s mound.

As the summers dwindled away and late July or August brought games in places with exotic names like Yazoo City, Bremen/Tallapoosa, Natchez and Oconee County, the stakes became a little higher.

The rules were clearer, and that mattered to the structurally minded. Dominant pitchers orchestrated the tempo. The infields were manicured even better than your grandfather’s garden. No pole beans, no bird egg beans, no okra and no parsnips from the groomed ground. The only marks were made by the cleats of a fleet-footed base thief attempting to steal second base.

Later still would come college games, where being on the short end of stinging scores like 19-2 against East Carolina of Greenville, N.C. and 1-0 versus Florida in an NCAA District III game in Gastonia (N.C.) made even the mouth-watering smells of grilled hot dogs and fresh popcorn unenjoyable.

Major League games had their geometrically mowed outfields and sometimes pennant races.

But nothing could erase the full memory of playing against the “home” team in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. The open interior of the facility was made into a baseball field of sorts. The prison team wasn’t well liked by the inmates still in their cells. As a “visitor,” we were welcomed by shouts of “We are betting on you guys” and “don’t cost us our cigarettes.” Fortunately, the home team was not loaded with sluggers or a youthful pitcher.

Baseball is emerging from its virus-caused hibernation.

Pitching is still 75-90 percent of the game.

Attempting to bunt to get on base is still allowed.

So many feelings are brought back to the mind’s surface when you hear the sounds of baseball. You remember the faces and names of teammates, even more than the scores and wins or losses of the games.

So here come the gentle breezes, the will of the sun, the imagery of the diamond and the fading memories of once being able to run into those breezes and throw in the general direction of the catcher’s mitt.