Take Me Out To The Ballgame!

Take Me Out To The Ballgame!

I love baseball. I went to my first baseball game in 1955. To the best of my recollection the Brooklyn Dodgers played the Philadelphia Phillies in Ebbets Field. Dem Glorious Bums won the game. Later, that year they defeated the hated Yankees in Yankee Stadium and won the 1955 World Series. For Dodger fans who were told every year “Wait until next year”, 1955 was next year. It was said that 1 million people lined the route from the Bronx all the way back to Brooklyn. Two years later, Walter O’Malley (cursed be his name) became the most hated man in Brooklyn when he moved our beloved Dodgers to Los Angeles. At the same time he persuaded the New York Giants to move to San Francisco. For the first time in a long time, New York was without a National League team. All that we had left was the Yankees. For lifelong National League fans rooting for the Yankees was unthinkable. So we mourned our lost teams and hoped for a new National League franchise. In 1962, we were rewarded with the New York Mets, a sorry team made up of has-beens and never-will-be’s. But lo and behold after a couple of miserable years the Mets won the World Championship in 1969. They made it to the World Series in 1973 but lost in the seventh game to Oakland. I had the pleasure of going to one of those games. Unfortunately, I almost froze to death on an extremely cold night in Queens but I’ll always have that memory. In 1986 they won it again by beating the Boston Red Sox in dramatic fashion.

By then we were long gone moving to Milwaukee in 1982. The Brewers were an American League team at the time. They played in Milwaukee County Stadium, a venue that had been built in 1953 to entice a team (any team) to town. Three weeks after it opened the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee where they stayed until 1965. They then pulled an O’Malley and decamped for greener pastures in Atlanta. Five years later Bud Selig and a group of investors bought the Seattle Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee. By the time we got there the Brewers had quite a team. In 1982 they won the American League Pennant by defeating the California Angels. My wife and I had the opportunity to go to one of those games. They took on the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals to seven games in the World Series before losing.

Milwaukee had a slow decline through the rest of the 80’s and into the 90’s. As a small-market team they were unable to compete for the free agents that would make a difference. The addition of poor management decisions just killed any chances that they might have had. In 1994 when baseball re-aligned Milwaukee returned to being a National League town. It didn’t help. Selig was constantly lobbying for a taxpayer-financed stadium to replace aging County Stadium. After a contentious battle that divided the city and state the stadium was completed in 2001. You may remember the horrendous accident on July 14, 1999 when the largest crane in the world fell into the stadium while lifting a roof piece. Three men were killed. There was millions of dollars in damage and a year delay.

On a cold March day in 2001 two weeks before the season opened the citizens of Wisconsin were invited to tour their new stadium. Millions came. Do you remember the scene at the end of Field of Dreams when you see all of the cars coming through the corn fields? That night local TV showed an aerial view of Miller Park with streams of cars in lines heading to the new stadium. In the words of James Earl Jones: “People will come, Ray”.

The following year we moved to central Virginia. We were without a major league team to root for. After three years major league baseball saw fit to move the financially-failing Montreal Expos to our nation’s capital after a thirty-three year absence. Renamed the Washington Nationals they had several bad years. We had front row seats (from 100 miles away and with the help of The Washington Post) to another contentious stadium debate. A city-financed stadium was one of the contingencies for the move. After much back-and-forth between MLB and Washington an agreement was reached. The team was sold to the fabulously wealthy Lerner family who had made their billions as developers, particularly of shopping malls. By Opening Day 2008 the new stadium was opened for baseball. Washington promptly lost 102, 103 and 93 games in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Hope springs eternal and 2011 may be the year that they improve dramatically with the addition of better, more-experienced players.

Like I said at the beginning, I love baseball. I once told my wife that baseball is the only game that you can watch on TV while doing two other things: eating and reading a book, for example. Like Hyman Roth from The Godfather II I love watching baseball on a lazy summer afternoon. In the words of the great Casey Stengel when congratulated for winning the World Series, “I couldn’t have done it without the players”. So go out and enjoy a game this summer, it’s uniquely American.

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