Put me in, coach: I’m ready to play today

BY BOB WACHS, Columnist
Posted 9/11/20

There are many things I miss in today’s coronavirus pandemic world of shutdown and back-off.

I miss going to my favorite greasy spoon without wondering if it’s safe to settle in for a good …

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Put me in, coach: I’m ready to play today

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Posted

There are many things I miss in today’s coronavirus pandemic world of shutdown and back-off.

I miss going to my favorite greasy spoon without wondering if it’s safe to settle in for a good meal and plenty of conversation with friends and staff. I miss hugging and shaking hands; folks who are native Southerners can understand the hugging part. I miss being able to go pretty much where I want to go when I want to go without having to remember whether I brought the mask that fogs my glasses and gets hot underneath.

There are lots of things I miss.

But I really miss baseball.

Yeah, I know. I know they’re playing, but in front of cardboard cut-outs with piped-in stadium noise? As Joe Biden would say, “Come on, man!”

What I really miss is baseball the way I used to know it. Funny thing, baseball and me. I didn’t play all that much as a youngster. We didn’t have Little League in Pittsboro or east Chatham in the dark days during my youth when dinosaurs roamed the earth. And even if there had been, there was little demand for slow-running, weak-hitting, poor-fielding athletes such as the description on the back of my Topps Bubblegum Baseball Card would have read — if there had been such a thing.

And school ball? Forget it.

Now granted, I did take part in some barn-burners in Reid, Shirley and Linda Hill’s front yard across U.S. Hwy. 64 from my house. I’ll never forget the day I was at the plate, there between the two big oaks. Bases loaded. Tie game. Two outs. Bottom of the 14th or whatever — we just played until it got dark. Full count on me. Here’s the pitch ... and with a mighty swing I squibbed a roller toward third that somebody — I can’t remember who — misplayed and overran trying to field it and the winning run came across. Good thing, too. I was still on my way to first when the run scored. Of course, it helped that Mama was calling me from across the road to come home for supper.

Such events were the highlight of my career on the field; it was elsewhere — as in the chair in front of the television or the newspaper stat sheets — that I shined.

Around 1956 or so, I kept Sam White in business at his store just up the road by almost single-handedly wiping out his weekly stock of the aforementioned baseball cards, complete with a big block of bubblegum in each. By then, I had the complete Brooklyn Dodgers — Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Roy Campanella, and others. Some years later, as I was majoring in staying in college, I went into the basement at my homeplace looking to find them where I had stored them. On not finding them, I casually inquired of my dear saintly Mama if she had any idea where they might be.

“Oh,” she said, “I cleaned up in the basement last week and threw them away.”

“Oh,” I said, reasoning that they were worth several — I mean several — dollars at the time.

Still today, baseball grabs me. I cry watching “Field of Dreams.” Don’t ask me to tell you exactly why. It does make me think of my dad and our games of catch in the backyard when his arthritic joints — which he passed on to me — would let him. And a couple of news items this week brought it all a little closer.

Tom Seaver, the “Tom Terrific” pitching hero of the New York Mets, and St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Lou Brock, the “Base Burglar,” both filled out their last lineup cards a few days ago and went on for a game in another stadium.

My thing with Seaver was I didn’t care for him when he pitched against the Cards but I could recognize and appreciate skill and talent regardless. And Brock — he was the fastest thing on two feet until Ricky Henderson came along and broke his MLB career mark of 938 swiped bases.

Somewhere along the way I was converted from the Dodgers to the Cardinals; it was Stan Musial who did it. And by the time of my second year as a freshman at UNC, I was head over heels enough in love with Bob Gibson, Curt Simmons, Tim McCarver, Bill White, Ken Boyer and the others to gladly cut classes to catch the ’67 and ’68 World Series in the dorm TV room.

I don’t know what the full pull is — maybe nostalgia, maybe I’m naïve, maybe the recognition of my own mortality, maybe my youth wasn’t all sweetness nd light and I just didn’t see it. I just know that I’m not happy a pandemic has shut down two hot dogs all the way, a cold belly-washer and a seat along the third base line.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

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