Saturday, April 27, 2013

Rambling Wretch

There was a spate of stories last month about the selflessness of such luminaries as Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.  Both took one for their respective teams, by electing to take less salary next year to free up more "cap space" for their teams to invest in additional players.  I had every intent of writing some juxtaposition of their salaries (and others) with the average annual earnings of teachers, fire fighters and police officers.  I thought that too easy a target.

Or, I could go on for a few paragraphs about the NFL draft.  In Atlanta, the local cognoscenti of the airwaves have been devoting  - for weeks - many hours of time debating whether the hometown Falcons should trade up or down from their position at #30.  Gag them all now, please.

I could also ramble about the refusal of the US Senate to allow a modest proposal to register those who purchase firearms to come to a vote.  Note the phrasing: I did not say the Senate voted it down, for they did not.  Due to their arcane rules, a bill that has the support of 54 of its members is not considered a majority.  This logic escapes me.

No, instead, I prefer to discuss baseball.

After the recent horrors that took place in Boston, each of the major sports currently in season did tributes to the citizens of the city where the attack occurred.  None, however, seemed quite so eloquent as what took place in the various ball yards across the land.  I'm pretty certain that on Tuesday, April 16, every single stadium played Sweet Caroline at some point during the game.  I also heard that Neil Diamond showed up at Fenway the following weekend and asked if he could perform it live.  No image, however, had quite the impact as this one:

Yes, that is the facade of Yankee Stadium.  If the second-most-intense rivalry in all of sports (an opinion, if you please) can put all that history aside to send such a message of support, well, perhaps even the US Senate could count 54 votes as a majority, or some such.

No sport has quite the healing power of baseball.  I vividly recall the image of then-President Bush throwing out the first pitch of the World Series game played at Yankee Stadium shortly after 9/11.  To my jaded, biased mind, it remains a searing image of the power of the sport.

It's not surprising, when one considers it.  Whenever I watch the Top 10 plays on SportsCenter, the highlights from all the sports portrayed are dunks, touchdown catches, goals in those sports with nets or a car crash.  Only one - baseball - consistently shows defensive gems.  To me, that says more about the elegance of the game than any home run.

I can do without curtain calls and those inexplicable races that most stadia seem to have nowadays (sausages and Presidents come immediately to mind).  I still believe that mascots are a blight on the game.  I will save my vitriol for the DH and interleague play for another time.  Still, baseball remains a game rich in personalities and history.  Stories are passed down from parent to child through generations.  Here is one I have told my own children:

I was working in Operations in a hotel about 10 years ago.  The Atlanta Braves were staying there, in town to play the locals.  Prior to their checkout, all the managers on duty were summoned to the lobby, primarily to keep autograph seekers at bay.  Nearly every one of their games were broadcast on TBS, so the players were well-known and easily recognized.  Gary Sheffield walked by, seemingly oblivious to it all, and entered a Mercedes.  Larry (still known as Chipper) Jones came out, presenting us with our only challenge, as a woman approached him while pulling a bat out of a plastic bag.  If memory serves correctly, she was seeking his signature on the bat, instead of using it as a weapon for some offense unknown to us all.

After all the players had boarded the team bus, Hank Aaron strolled through the lobby.  Not a soul recognized him.  I could not help but to blurt out "It has been our honor to have you as our guest, Mr. Aaron".  He thanked me and walked on.  Immediately behind him was one of the team's broadcasters, Don Sutton.  He remarked to me about how infrequently Hammerin' Hank was recognized by the fans in hotels when they were on the road.

Hank Aaron, one of the greatest ever to play the game, who suffered indignities unknown to us mere mortals as he approached the storied home run mark set by Babe Ruth some 40 years before.  He even received death threats.  Through it all, he presented the image of a stoic professional, a gentleman.  I like to think that I was expressing gratitude for the many hours of pleasure I derived from watching him play the game.  I was thankful for the stories my father had told me when I was a child, of his massive wrists and unheard-of arm strength.  I appreciated his immense talent, the respect he had for the game, the fact that, to this day, he is still one of the greatest ambassadors the sport has ever seen.

Thank you, Mr. Aaron.