Every now and again, we need a little reminder of something that should be self-evident: Going to a ballgame is supposed to be fun. It is supposed to be a blast, not a bore.
It is part of the reason why I always will have a hard time getting 100 percent behind the notion that one of the great signs of American weakness is that baseball games take too damned long to play.
I get it. I was a nerdy kid, and have grown into a nerdy adult. I listened to just as many Carpenters records as Led Zeppelin records. I laughed just as hard at “The Brady Bunch” as “Saturday Night Live.” In my single days, in nightclubs, you were more likely to find me locked into a baseball game on a small TV at the corner of the bar as on a dance floor. So, OK: guilty.
But I can’t believe that makes me the only person who would go to baseball games — and throughout my childhood it was two a year; one to see the Yankees, one to see the Mets — and really have only one fervent wish: extra innings. My father, far cooler than me, never would dream of leaving games early. I liked being at the ballpark. I didn’t want it to cruise by in an hour and a half.
Again, I’ll preface this: nerd. Still, if I were to list my top five favorite days as a kid, one always will be July 9, 1977. It was the first game we went to after the Tom Seaver trade. It was Camera Day, meaning before the game we got to take pictures of the players. I got some sweet shots of Bruce Boisclair and Jackson Todd and Bobby Valentine. Years later, I showed Valentine the shot I took of him with a Kodak Instamatic. He signed it, and inscribed it, “Don’t give up your day job.”
I don’t remember all the details. I had to look up that there were just 10,407 of us at Shea that day, a pathetic number for a summer Saturday afternoon game. I do remember it was tied 4-4 at the end of nine, making it my first extra-inning game. I do remember the Expos scored a run in the top of the 11th (though I didn’t remember it was Gary Carter who drove in the run), and that Steve Henderson tied it in the bottom of the 11th. And I remember that in the bottom of the 17th, one on and two outs, Lenny Randle hit a home run off Will McEnaney to win it, 7-5.
Time of game: 4 hours, 17 minutes. Years later, as a sports writer worrying about deadline, sure, that number would glare like pure evil. At age 10, there was only one regret: that we hadn’t made it to the 20th inning and the fifth hour.
Cynicism happens to all of us, I guess. Years later I would join the parade of eye-rollers at the grounds crew doing “YMCA,” at “Cotton-Eye-Joe,” at “Lazy Mary” and “Piano Man” at Citi Field, at the various trivia games, quizzes, Kiss-Cams that would invade our parks. Funny, though: I would ask my friends outside the press box about that stuff, and they never seemed to mind.
It is why The Freeze has become the best baseball invention since batting gloves.
You’ve seen The Freeze, the runner in Atlanta who spots a civilian about six seconds in a race across the outfield warning track then chases after him from behind. Nigel Tilton is his real name, a security guard by trade. He has won most of his races. He has lost a few. But every time The Freeze is on TV, I watch. I haven’t seen him live yet, but I can’t wait. Part of it is the novelty. Most of it is the reaction you see from the stands at SunTrust Park.
They don’t care that it all essentially is a live-action advertisement for a local gas station selling frozen drinks. They go crazy watching him. They laugh. They roar. They have a blast at the ballpark. And isn’t that supposed to be the point?
Seventy years ago Wednesday, on July 5, 1947, Cleveland’s Larry Doby pinch hit for Earl Harrist in the top of the seventh inning at Chicago’s Comisky Park, striking out against the White Sox’s Eddie Smith. With that at-bat, Doby became the 7,997th player to appear in a major league game — and the first African-American to ever play in the American League. The pride of Paterson’s Eastside High School earned a spot in the Hall of Fame for his 13-year career but never near as much credit for his journey, which was every bit as harrowing as Jackie Robinson’s. Remember him on Wednesday.
The Yankees are the ultimate baseball travel team. Half the roster is made up of kids named Aaron, Tyler or Austin.
Forget dreaming of a day when the Knicks can parade the Lawrence O’Brien trophy around town; how about yearning for a day when July 1 rolls around and they actually can be in a serious conversation with a big-ticket free agent?
OK, so shoot me: I like a brain-candy beach read just as much as the next guy. So if, like me, you ever dreamed of what it would be like to live the rock-and-roll life for even one day, you’ll gobble up “Runnin’ With the Devil,” about Van Halen’s prime days of debauchery, just as quickly as I did.
Whack Back at Vac
Marc Aronin: Can you imagine how much total money James Dolan has paid Phil Jackson, Larry Brown, Derek Fisher and Mike D’Antoni to just go away? And people wonder why I have Fios for my TV subscription.
Vac: Maybe everyone should have a boss like Jim Dolan. Actually, everyone should have an EX-BOSS like Jim Dolan.
Bruce Welsch: Any truth to the rumor that Phil Jackson skipped out on his exit interview?
Bob Buscavage: You just might say that Phil Jackson became a victim of the “Bermuda” triangle offense.
Vac: Who says Knicks fans don’t have a sense of humor?
@dcowan9850: The ball Curtis Granderson didn’t catch the other night: I know that’s never called an error, but I’ve never understood why. That’s clearly an error even though he didn’t lay a glove on it.
@MikeVacc: File that under other great scoring mysteries like ‘you can’t assume a double play.’ Of course you can assume a double play … if the shortstop hadn’t thrown the ball six feet over the first baseman’s head!
Frank Giordano: Can you imagine if one of the Jets’ QBs can actually play? How about decent O-line & D-line play? A good running game? The draft picks turn out to be the real deal? In the mediocre NFL you never know …?
Vac: Personally, I can’t imagine that at all, but that remains the greatest thing about sports, right? At 0-0, it’s OK — it’s mandatory — to believe that anything is possible. Even with the 2017 Jets.