Although baseball had a soft open in the Tokyo Dome on March 20th, games begin in earnest on March 28th. At last, the seemingly unending offseason ends, and the church of baseball opens its doors once more. A. Bartlett Giamatti, who served as commissioner of Major League Baseball for just 154 days before a heart attack killed him at 51, best captured the longing for the game:
(Baseball) Breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone.
More than any other sport, baseball brings out a bit of the poet in authors, musicians, scriptwriters, and even the players themselves. As we finally welcome the Padres back for games that count, characters like Annie Savoy, writers like W.P. Kinsella, singers like Bruce Springsteen, and the guys who played the game echo our sentiments about the grand old game.
The movie “Bull Durham” has been celebrated for Ron Shelton’s dialogue as much as it has for the action on the field (and elsewhere). The first scene opens with Annie (played by Susan Sarandon) at her altar fashioned with candles, a baseball, and a broken bat.
“I’ve tried ‘em all, I really have,” Annie muses, “and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball …and it’s never boring.”
Catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), the player to be named later tasked with making up and coming fireballer Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) major league ready, echoes more than one veteran when he mutters, “C’mon, Rook — show me that million-dollar arm ’cause I’m getting a good idea about the five-cent head.”
In the 1992 film “A League of Their Own,” Tom Hanks plays Jimmy Dugan manager of a team of female players during World War II. The movie is probably best known for the line,” Are you crying? Are you crying? Are you crying?! There’s no crying! There’s no crying in baseball!”
But Dugan also laments, that he “…gave away five years at the end my career to drink. Five years. And now there isn’t anything I wouldn’t give to get back any one day of it.”
Another oft-quoted sentiment comes from the incomparable voice of actor James Earl Jones (playing Terence Mann) in “Field of Dreams”:
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.
The iconic Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully provides the background poetry in “For Love of the Game,” as he describes pitcher Billy Chapel’s last game: “Chapel…isn’t pitching against the Yankees. He’s pitching against time… And tonight, I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time…to push the sun back up in the sky…and give us one more day of summer.”
From the sublime to the more mundane, there’s also the dialogue from “Sandlot,” including this adolescent taunt: “You call that pitching? This is baseball! Not tennis!”
Many writers have also celebrated the game. Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon wrote a book called “Summerland.” In the novel intended for young adults, children save the world by playing baseball.
Chabon obviously has strong feelings about the game:
The first and last duty of the lover of the game of baseball, whether in the stands or on the field, is the same as that of the lover of life itself: to pay attention to it. When it comes to the position of catchers as all fools and shortstops will freely acknowledge, this solemn requirement is doubled.
David Halberstam, the American journalist, known for such classics as “The Best and the Brightest” and winner of both the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting and the American Book Award, wrote that “On the baseball diamond, if nowhere else, America was truly a classless society. DiMaggio’s grace embodied the democracy of our dreams.”
Although W.P. Kinsella, author of “Shoeless Joe” (which morphed into the movie “Field of Dreams”), was born and lived in Canada he often wrote about baseball. “Properly played,” he insisted that, “baseball consisted of mathematics, geometry, art, philosophy, ballet, and carnival, all intertwined like the mystical ribbons of color in a rainbow.”
“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat,” wrote Roger Kahn author of multiple books including “The Boys of Summer.” Much earlier, American poet and essayist Walt Whitman, who was born in 1819, wrote, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game-the American game.”
For those who consider baseball boring Hall-of-Fame announcer Red Barber issued this barb, “Baseball is dull only to dull minds.”
Also celebrated in popular music, John Fogerty’s refrain for his song “Centerfield” repeats the plea: “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today, look at me I can be, centerfield.”
The lyrics to “Glory Day” by Bruce Springsteen speak to the fleeting nature of stardom, “Glory days, well they’ll pass you by; Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye; Glory days, glory days.” In his “The Baseball Song,” Corey Smith reminisces about “Dad on the mound until the daylight was gone.” And he compares the game to our lives, “Life’s a fastball, belt high, coming right down the middle.”
Former Padre player and coach Tim Flannery has expressed his love of the game in “The Baseball Song,” which begins with the sound of crowds and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in the background:
I grew up believing that the game was played for free by men who really knew the score of how lucky they could be. Dance across the grass just cut, the smell that sets you free, to run around the bases is still all I ever need.
Many other players have expressed themselves through words, especially Yogi Berra, the famous Yankee catcher, coach, and manager, as well as teammate and friend of Jerry Coleman. He published his quotes in a number of books including “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said.”
Among his “Yogisms” these stand out:
“Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”
“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too.”
“Think?! How are you supposed to think and hit at the same time?”
Another multitalented player, manager, and coach, Leo Durocher had this to say: “Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.”
Other players have left these sentiments to posterity.
“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” Rogers Hornsby
“I never had a job. I just always played baseball.” Satchel Paige
“A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end, it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.” Jim Bouton
“A man has to have goals – for a day, for a lifetime – and that was mine, to have people say, ‘There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.’” Ted Williams
“I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.” Pete Rose
“I think I was the best baseball player I ever saw.” Willie Mays
“I am convinced that God wanted me to be a baseball player.” Roberto Clemente
“If my uniform doesn’t get dirty, I haven’t done anything in a baseball game.” Rickey Henderson
“It took me seventeen years to get three thousand hits in baseball. It took me one afternoon on the golf course.” Hank Aron
Our own Tony Gwynn advised players of all ages to “Remember these two things: play hard and have fun.”
In a quote befitting the Padres’ 2019 season, longtime Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda observed, “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are, you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.”
Finally, in the most anticipated season in years, Padres’ fans will soon hear those two momentous words, “Play ball!” By game 162 we’ll know about that “other third.”